Dangerous Depot Road bridge will be closed
Depot Road bridge — across the Norwalk River at the northerly entrance to the Branchville train station — is deteriorated and will soon be closed to traffic.
“Depot Road bridge is in seriously bad condition,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the Board of Selectmen last week at the Sept. 4 meeting.
“The state is telling us you need to close it to truck traffic immediately,” he said.
But he added that the state recommended closing the bridge to “vehicular traffic, not just trucks.”
The bridge will be closed soon — “trucks within the next week,” Marconi said Sept. 10.
“The board would prefer it be closed sooner rather than later,” he said. “I need to talk to the state about putting signage up. Whenever you put signage in the state right-of-way you need approvals.”
Since it is the state recommending that the bridge be closed, approval of the signs will presumably be granted quickly — but any interaction with the state bureaucracy is likely to take some time.
There are also some businesses across the railroad tracks that bring truck traffic to West Branchville Road and Portland Avenue, and Marconi said at the meeting he needed to speak to them about the situation.
Cars should have relatively little difficulty with the bridge closure, being able to enter the train station at the southern end, taking Portland Avenue bridge. But Marconi said the larger trucks that go to some of the businesses can’t negotiate the turn from Portland Avenue onto West Branchville Road — so, they generally use Depot Road and its bridge.
Selectmen Steve Zemo suggested that trucks might be able to cross the river on the Portland Avenue bridge, enter the train station, then go north through the parking lot and use the Depot Road rail crossing to get to West Branchville Road. Marconi said the idea was worth looking at.
Board members wondered about cars parked in the station lot, but Marconi said the lot wasn’t full every day the way it used to be.
“We started charging,” Marconi said. “No one parks there.”
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark suggested the businesses might arrange to have their deliveries done with smaller trucks.
“The possibility of their having to use a smaller truck to truck things in — that would be on them,” she said.
In the Branchville revitalization project that is in the planning stages the Portland Avenue bridge is to be realigned — and after that trucks should be able to negotiate the turn onto West Branchville Road. The project’s planners have also looked at closing Depot Road bridge to traffic and making it a pedestrians-only bridge across the river.
“We were going to use it as a pedestrian walkway,” Marconi said.
The possibility of repairing the Depot Road bridge, or taking steps to shore it up, was briefly discussed at last week’s meeting — although this would not be a simple matter.
“Scaffolding,” Marconi said “...Now you’re in the Norwalk River, and permits.”.
And the state seems skeptical of repairs as a solution.
“Eventually, their recommendation is to remove the bridge,” Marconi said.
In the short run, the bridge needs to be closed — especially once the state has sent the town a letter formally stating its concerns about the bridge’s safety.
“If we don’t close it, we’re accepting the liability,” Marconi told the selectmen.
Sean Connelly, a finance board member who is now running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, wondered why the the town would wait for the letter if state officials have already said informally that the bridge is no good.
“If we think it’s not safe, why would we wait?” Connelly said.
Selectman Bob Hebert agreed.
“We know we’re getting this letter, why don’t we just shut it down?”
Zemo thought the town should try to get the state engineers’ report and see what exactly the problems are.
“Is it a $5,000 fix with the keystone?” he said.
But he also saw the need not to delay a bridge closure if there’s a safety concern.
“I get it,” he said. “We don’t want someone to fall in.”
Hebert thought Marconi should talk to the affected businesses and start the procedures needed to close Depot Road — which is a very short street going east from Route 7, across the Norwalk River, into the train station lot, and across the tracks to West Branchville Road.
“We give them notification and hopefully, we close it tomorrow of the next day,” Hebert said.
Closing the Depot Road bridge and forcing all traffic to use Portland Avenue, Marconi said, might help some with the long lines of southbound traffic that back up on Route 7 behind the light at Route 102, which is also the Depot Road intersection. He said southbound drivers wanting to turn left from Route 7 into Depot Road can hold up long lines of traffic behind them, as they wait for a chance to make the cross-traffic turn.
Marconi told the selectmen that he, Jake Mueller of the town’s engineering department, and former town engineer Charles Fisher — who now works with the town on a consulting basis in retirement — had discussed the bridge’s condition at a meeting with “eight or nine engineers” from the state.
The closing of Depot Road will have to proceed in the near future, while the project realigning Portland Avenue bridge and addressing other improvements in the area will take longer.
“That could be years,” Zemo said of the larger Branchville project.
“It could be,” Marconi agreed.