Thirty years ago today — at 1:28 a.m. — the Mianus River bridge collapsed.
Anyone living in this part of the country in 1983 remembers that tragedy. Three people were killed when 2 cars and 2 tractor-trailers plunged 70 feet from I-95 in Greenwich.
If it had happened during rush hour, or any time during the day — as it easily could have — the toll would have been far worse.
The Mianus River Bridge collapse was caused by the failure of 2 pin-and-hanger assemblies that held the deck in place. The culprits were corrosion from water buildup, due to improper roadwork 10 years earlier; the long-term effects of salt (put down during winter storms, and in the salt marsh below) — and inadequate inspection resources.
It took 6 months for the bridge to reopen. All that time, the Post Road and other streets in Greenwich were gridlocked. Simple trips between Westport and New York lengthened substantially.
The Mianus River bridge has been completely reconstructed. The disaster caused other pin and hanger bridges throughout the country to be re-examined, and reconstructed too.
But 30 years later — and in the aftermath of the I-5 Skagit River bridge collapse in Washington state — fears are rising again about the state of the nation’s infrastructure. Concern is particularly high in places like Connecticut, where age, harsh weather and heavy traffic enact a heavy toll.
We seldom think of the I-95 bridge that spans the Saugatuck River in Westport. It’s just part of the landscape, and the new Saugatuck redevelopment — harnessing the beauty of the water, handsome architecture and the vibrancy of a very walkable neighborhood — makes it even easier to ignore.
Yet according to Transportation for America, that bridge (and the less traveled, but also important Merritt Parkway span between Exits 41 and 42) are “structurally deficient.”
The Westport News says that term is applied when
the National Bridge Inventory evaluation system gives a rating of “poor” or worse to the deck of the bridge, the superstructure underpinning the roadway deck or the substructure, which includes piers as well as columns and crossbars that hold up the substructure and deck. These are bridges that require significant “maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.”
Fortunately, the News added, state Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick
said the deficient bridges do not compromise public safety immediately. The “structurally deficient” category is a serious concern, he said, but does not mean a bridge is unsafe for travel, though repairs are needed to restore the bridge’s original load standards when new.
But bridges do collapse. Thirty years after life in Greenwich was thrown into chaos, let’s hope the lessons learned are still being heeded.
(For a History Channel video on the Mianus River tragedy, click here.)