Ridgefield bridge repair money heads to town meeting
For the replacement of 109-year-old Depot Road Bridge — closed in October over safety concerns — the local cost to town taxpayers isn’t really expected to change. But town officials want to play it safe with the approval, as with the bridge.
It’s envisioned as part of a two-bridge repair package that will cost local taxpayers close to $800,000 or $900,000.
Money for a new bridge at Depot Road — the more northerly entrance to Branchville Train Station from Route 7 — will go to town meeting voters in January as a $455,000 town cost. That represents a 20% local share of a job projected to cost a total of $2,275,000.
The bridge had been expected to cost the town $354,000 — a 20% share based on just the construction cost of $1,770,000.
And that was the amount approved by a Dec. 11 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, which sent the $354,000 figure on to the finance board and a Jan. 8 town meeting.
But when First Selectman Rudy Marconi asked the Board of Finance Dec. 18 to approve the expenditure, Controller Kevin Redmond and finance board members made a case for approving $455,000 — which is a 20% share of the full projected cost of the job, $2,275,000.
The finance board approved that amount, and on Friday, Dec. 20, the selectmen met again and revised the $354,000 request up to $455,000, to match what the finance board approved.
“We want to assume the worst case scenario,” Marconi said, agreeing with the finance board at its meeting. “If we don’t spend it, we don’t spend it.”
The finance board motion was “to approve $2,275,000, of which approximately $1,820,000 would be paid by state and federal grants” — the total projected cost of the bridge, minus an anticipated 20%, arriving at the $455,000.
The way grants and bonding work, the approval passed by voters needs to authorize the entire amount to be spent, and may then refer back to the anticipated grants reducing local cost.
“Technically, we’re asking for the gross $2.275 ($2,275,000) with a net, with grants, of $1.82 ($1,820,000) for a net of $455 ($455,000 taxpayer cost),” Controller Redmond told the finance board.
Finance board member Michael Rettiger asked if the town would do the borrowing for the entire $2,275,000 amount, then await reimbursements from federal and state governments.
“No, we’d only bond our net,” Redmond said.
Two bridge jobs
The Depot Road Bridge rebuilding will be the first of two bridge reconstructions in Branchville.
The bridge to Route 7 at the southern end of Branchville Train Station — the Portland Avenue Bridge — is to be rebuilt as part of the Branchville TOD (Transportation Oriented Development) project, being done mostly under a state economic development grant. The project includes sidewalks, streetlamps, plantings. A big part of it is the realignment of Portland Avenue, with a traffic light, and reconstruction of the Portland Avenue Bridge, under a federal grant program.
The town’s $442,000 share of the $2,210,000 Portland Avenue project was approved over a year ago.
But the Portland Avenue project job can’t be done until the currently closed Depot Road Bridge is reopened.
“The problem with Depot Road closing is we can’t do Portland Avenue — and close both sides,” Marconi said.
With the town’s $442,000 share of the Portland Avenue Bridge reconstruction combined with the cost of the Deport Road Bridge job — either $455,000 or $354,000 — the total being spent by the town on bridge work is either $897,000 or $796,000.
At both the selectmen’s and the finance board’s meetings, Marconi raised the idea of using ground penetrating radar to see if there is metal rebar inside the bridge, which might suggest it’s safe despite the deterioration noted in the state report which led to its closing in October.
That could allow it to be reopened sooner, but in the long run the bridge will still likely have to be replaced.
The plan now is to to consider reconstruction of both bridges between Branchville Train Station and Route 7 together.
“What the state said is, ‘We’ll ask the federal government to include it in the Portland Avenue project,’” Marconi said.
The reconfiguration of Portland Avenue and Route 7 — with a traffic light — should be a major safety improvement, according to Marconi.
While drivers leaving the train station via Portland Avenue and turning north have a fairly reasonable task, Marconi said, drivers coming out of Portland Avenue to go south — by making a cross-traffic turn on Route 7 — face a real challenge.
“There are a lot of near misses down there,” Marconi told the finance board. “...You’ve got Dunkin’ Donuts across the street, with two entrances.”
Part of the planned Portland Avenue Bridge project is a reworking of the Portland Avenue railroad crossing — to be done by Metro-North at its own expense.
Once that rail crossing has been completed and the improved Portland Avenue rail crossing is in service, the Depot Road rail crossing — which heads east over the track at the north end of the train station’s parking lot — would be closed.
But the new Depot Road Bridge — over the Norwalk River, on the west side of the parking lot, connecting to Route 7 — would remain open.