In mid-September, the state Department of Transportation installed a temporary traffic light on North Avenue. That allowed alternating 1-way traffic to flow over the Merritt Parkway bridge. Repairs had begun in June, and were expected to be done in late August.
Two things happened almost immediately:
Traffic returned to normal.
Repair work stopped.
It has not resumed. There were not the promised round-the-clock shifts. There were not 2 shifts. There was not enough 1 guy standing there, putting out orange cones for no good reason at all.
There was no way DOT could meet its 2nd completion date — late October — unless an entire Army Corps of Engineers division parachuted in. And then worked harder than they ever had in history. Including wartime.
The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, when actual work was being done.
The spectacular lack of work has continued for over a month. Today, the selectman’s office announced that “unforeseen engineering problems” will further delay the repairs.
With winter coming, the new completion date is “expected to shift to” … June 2016.
And not June 1, you eager beavers. No — June 30, 2016.
“Fortunately,” the news release chirps, “the alternating single lane will continue to operate during the winter months.”
1st Selectman Jim Marpe — whose office has repeatedly pushed DOT to please get to work — calls the latest development “a major disappointment to us all.”
The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.
DOT has told the town “there is no alternative solution at this time.” DOT has assured the town that “it will make all accommodations necessary to leave the bridge job site in a condition whereby snow plows can operate in the winter and that the bridge can be safely traversed.”
I ran the press release through Google Translate. Here’s its translation of DOT-talk:
“Hey, shit happens. Don’t worry. Our latest promise is only 10 months later than the original one. See ya! PS: Hope there’s not a lot of snow this winter.”
The press release concludes with DOT’s official explanation for the delay:
Due to numerous accidental strikes by unauthorized oversized vehicles on the Merritt Parkway (Rte. 15), the integrity of the temporary support system became compromised. The Contractor removed the lower support beam of the system on September 13, 2015 to assess the damage and make repairs. A revised design for a different system providing additional clearance was submitted for review to the District on November 2, 2015.
Due to this delay, which pushed temperature sensitive work into the winter season the Department and the Contractor agreed to resume work in the spring, given the additional challenges, risks and costs of winter weather work. The Town of Westport was also informed and coordinated with to ensure local traffic was accommodated for safe passage over the one lane bridge during the winter.
In the next few weeks the Contractor will conduct dowel bar pull-out tests to verify the condition of the concrete and install additional drainage on the North bound right shoulder of Rte. 15 to alleviate water runoff on the roadway and potential icing issues. The jobsite will be secured for the winter and any height restriction signs on Rte. 15 will be removed or covered until construction resumes in the spring of 2016. We estimate a revised completion date prior to June 30, 2016.
Alert “06880” reader Jo Shields noticed something new yesterday on the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge:
With the appearance of black plastic-wrapped traffic lights strung at both ends of the North Avenue bridge, it looks as if we are into this construction business for the long haul.
The bridge has been open to 1-lane traffic from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with construction crews directing traffic. I wonder if the light will allow the bridge to be open longer to local traffic, or just free up the extra crew.
However, I haven’t seen any construction work going on. Optimistically thinking, perhaps that’s taking place from 6:01 p.m. to 5:59 a.m. ?
In what is definitely not stop-the-presses news, “06880” has learned that when school opens August 27, all of North Avenue will not — as had been promised — be open to all traffic. It’s been closed since June near the Merritt Parkway, where bridge reconstruction is taking place. Detours — to Weston Road or Bayberry Lane — are required.
The major thoroughfare — home to 4 of Westport’s 8 schools — will have a stopgap measure. One lane will be open, with traffic flowing in alternate directions.
The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, before reconstruction.
In response to a query by “06880,” town operations director Dewey Loselle says:
The state Department of Transportation has run into unexpected issues with the extent of bridge deterioration discovered, which is making their repairs more extensive and taking more time than had been anticipated. The original timetable had them being able to finish the project by September based on the conditions known at the time.
With the opening of school approaching we have been working closely with DOT on the issue. We have told them that the current detour routes are not viable alternatives for our buses, and not having access to the bridge would cause serious and unacceptable disruption to our school bus schedules, likely causing severe delays of students arriving at schools.
Another view of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.
DOT has listened to our concerns and has repair crews working around the clock on the bridge work. The current plan is for enough of the repairs to have been made so that we can safely have 1 lane open on the start of school on August 27th. We would also have police officers at each end of the bridge, facilitating traffic during the morning and evening rush hours by alternating the traffic flows. This way school buses, parents transporting children to school and commuters will all be able to cross the bridge, hopefully with minimal delay.
The bridge will still be closed at night so they can work on the final repairs more expeditiously. DOT is still working out the final details, but this is the plan. Yes, the bridge will not be totally finished, but having 1 lane access with police traffic direction will be a big improvement over the current situation, and much better than the alternative of having to rely on the detours. We are hoping that this will keep school bus delays to a minimum.
“06880” has learned that the police will be paid by the contractor — who will then apparently be reimbursed by the state. It also seems that the one-lane situation will last through mid-October.
The contractor — of course, the low bidder — has a disincentive clause in the contract for not having the bridge open by mid-August. Is half-open actually “open”?
But what’s ahead for Westport might make us wish we were having root canal — without Novocain — instead.
You may have noticed those “Construction Ahead” signs near North Avenue’s Cross Highway and Easton Road intersections. They refer to an upcoming project: repairs to the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.
As reported nearly 3 years ago, the state Department of Transportation needs to patch, waterproof and do other work on the 75-year-old Art Deco span.
That work begins soon.
The contract calls for a 210-day window. The anticipated completion date is October 30. There will be day and night work — and at some point, closure of North Avenue.
That’s a major thoroughfare in Westport. It carries 2300 vehicles a day — and is home to 4 schools (Staples High, Bedford and Coleytown Middle, and Coleytown Elementary).
The good news: Removal of mature trees will be kept to a minimum.
The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge — before renovation begins.
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