A traffic light and turning lanes on Route 7 at Portland Avenue are needed to keep Branchville traffic safe and orderly with the Depot Road Bridge now closed, First Selectman Rudy Marconi argues, and the state is looking to replace the Portland Avenue bridge in 2022 — with the town bearing over $440,000 of an estimated $2.2 million cost.

The state’s plans to replace the Portland Avenue bridge — which will send traffic on a two-mile detour through Georgetown — will be presented at a public information meeting on Wednesday, Oct.16, at 7:30 in town hall.

But Marconi is adamant about the need for a traffic light and turning lanes on Route 7 at the Portland Avenue intersection, now that the Depot Road bridge is closed — and he doesn’t want to wait three years.

“For safety, we need a light there, and that’s what we’re going to be asking for,” First Selectman Marconi told The Ridgefield Press. “What we want to do is get the turn lanes stripped in and a temporary light there, that would allow traffic to have an easier time to exit Portland Avenue onto Route 7. That’s the issue — it’s very, very dangerous to exit Portland Avenue and turn south.”

The closing of the Depot Road bridge in early October leaves Portland Avenue as Branchville’s only connection between Route 7 on one side of the Norwalk River, and the train station and businesses off West Branchville Road on the other — it’ll have a good deal of traffic, including some trucks, Marconi says.

Studies for turning lanes and a light on Route 7 at Portland Avenue appear to be on a fast track.

Planner Mike Galante of Frederick Clark Associates has “already begun” the studying the project, Marconi said.

Tighe and Bond, the firm that has been working on the Branchville Transit Oriented Development plan for the Western Connecticut Council of Governments — WestCOG, the regional planning group — did a “preliminary design for a turning lane, based on the existing width of 7, because we needed to know it can fit,” Marconi said.

But Route 7 is a state highway and the state would ultimately make any decision about putting a second traffic light in Branchville, at Route 7 and Portland Avenue, just a short way — the length of train station parking lot — from the light at Route 7’s intersection with Route 102 Branchville Road.

Portland plan

The notice for the public information meeting on the state’s plans to replace the Portland Avenue bridge in 2022 describes the existing structure as “functionally obsolete and scour critical” — meaning it is threatened by erosion from the river’s fast moving water.

“The bridge, built in 1928, consists of one 23-foot spand with concrete encased steel girders supported by reinforced concrete abutments.” It’s length is 27 feet, and the “curb to curb roadway width” is just over 27 feet.

“The proposed replacement structure consists of precast concrete deck units supported on integral abutments founded on piles,” the state says. “The clear span length of the proposed bridge will be approximately 34 feet. The curb to curb width will be 36 feet, consisting of two 11-foot wide travel lanes, a 10-foot-wide dedicated right turn lane and two-foot shoulders.

“The proposed structure will have a concrete sidewalk and utilize open metal bridge rail along the span.”

The state proposes to do the construction work during “four weekend closures and one week closure of Portland Avenue” in 2022.

During the closure for construction work, the detour route to reach the train station would be down Route 7 to Route 107/57 in Georgetown, and back to Branchville on Portland Avenue. The detour route is “approximately 2.2 miles,” the state says.

The state expects construction to start “in 2022, based on the availability of funding and receipt of required environmental permits.”

The estimated cost — “approximately $2,210,000” — would be “80% federal and 20% municipal funds,” according to the state. That’s a $442,000 estimated cost to the town.

Anyone interested in the Portland Avenue bridge project is welcome at the Oct. 16 meeting in town hall.

“Residents, business owners, commuters, and other interested individuals are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about and discuss the proposed project,” the state’s release says.

The state lists the Portland Avenue bridge replacement as “Bridge No. 05510 (Project No. 117-163) — Portland Avenue over Norwalk River.”

West Branchville businesses

Marconi says that the plans for “a new bridge at Portland Avenue, to replace the existing one,” also involves “a modification to the rail crossing that would allow all truck traffic to take a left turn onto West Branchville Road.”

And he said that may influence the answer to a question raised by an online petition.

“Will we have to reopen the Depot Road bridge? My feeling, at this point, is: yes,” Marconi said. “When Portland Avenue is rebuilt and all that work is going on, people are going to need an alternate route, right? So we’re going to have to look at — whether temporary or permanent — re-establishing the Depot Road bridge.”

Marconi said he has asked the private Nazzaro Brothers to help research bridge solutions.

“They’re in the business,” he said.

“We need to look at the condition of Depot Road bridge to see if we can: (A) Fix it; (B) Do you take it out and put a new one in? (C) How does all of this relate and fall into a timeline with the reopening of a new bridge installed at Portland Avenue?

“...We have to take this one step at a time,” Marconi said.

“I think everyone agrees if the bridge at Depot Road is unsafe, we have to close it.

“For now, we need to make the Portland Avenue safe — that’s the more important thing,” he said. “We need to put in a turn lane and hopefully the state will agree with the light.”