Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
DOT: 2 local bridges with poor rating need total replacement

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
August 23, 2007

VERNON - The state wants to demolish and replace two Rockville bridges over the Hockanum River in the next two years because of their deteriorating condition, officials with the Transportation Department said this week.

State inspectors have rated the Spring Street and River Street bridges as poor, but say they remain safe for travel.

Plans are in place for a full replacement of both structures, with construction for Spring Street scheduled for summer 2008 and River Street the following year, Kevin Nursick, DOT spokesman, said.

Much like the Minnesota bridge that collapsed this month, both Vernon structures received a poor rating in recent inspections, but are not considered structurally deficient.

The 106-foot Spring Street span that connects residents and neighbors of the Springville Mill apartments with downtown is over a century old. Built in 1900 and last refurbished in 1940, the concrete deck is pitted and at least four different railing materials - including chain link - have been haphazardly slapped together in a stopgap fix.

Located about a block west, the 32-foot River Street bridge was built in 1930 and has never been renovated outside of occasional resurfacing. Concrete barriers act as railings on both sides and are visibly crumbling.

State officials say there is concern in three main areas on both structures: the deck, which on a scale of 1-to-9 with 1 being critical and 9 good, is rated a 3, and the superstructure and substructure, which both rated a 4.

"It's no doubt both bridges are deteriorated, old, and in need of replacement," Nursick said, adding, "there's not an imminent safety risk, however - the bridge would be closed if it were unsafe for travel."

Demolition and construction of the Spring Street bridge should cost about $2 million and bids are expected to go out in January, Nursick said. The River Street bridge project is estimated to cost about $1.7 million and bids should be solicited by October 2008 with construction starting the following spring.

Both projects will be funded with 80 percent federal monies and 20 percent state.

In light of the Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis in which 13 people died, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer asked town and state officials for an update on Vernon's overpasses and tunnels that the state has given a poor rating.

Town Engineer Tim Timberman reported that both Spring and River Street bridges are in the final design phase, with 95 percent of the work complete and waiting only for state Environmental Protection encroachment approvals.

Marmer said the state Transportation Department assured her there were no problems with either of the two bridges or the single-vehicle tunnel on Tunnel Road. "But you take that for what it's worth," she added.

Shortly after the Minneapolis bridge collapse, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly committed to include at least $100 million in state bonding to boost bridge inspections, repairs, and replacements throughout the state, so money should not be a problem, local officials say.

However, Vernon is competing with other towns that also have structures with poor ratings. A 2006 survey of Connecticut's 5,354 bridges discovered that 411 were rated "poor" and 12 were in "critical" need of repairs.

"The infrastructure here is older than anywhere in the country, and weather doles out serious abuse, with plows, sand, salt, and a lot of traffic," Nursick said.

But local officials say they are less concerned about the safety of the older bridges.

"Some of the older bridges were built better than the newer ones," said Marmer, pointing out the Minneapolis structure was much larger, more heavily traveled, and only 40 years old.

"But whether the Minnesota bridge collapsed or not, these have to be taken care of," Marmer added. "Our infrastructure has fallen apart so badly. We have to take care of them."

According to 2006 statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, at least 73,533 of 607,363 bridges in the nation, or about 12 percent, were classified as "structurally deficient."

A bridge is typically judged structurally deficient if heavy trucks are banned from it or there are other weight restrictions, if it needs immediate work to stay open, or if it is closed. In those cases, such a bridge is considered in need of considerable maintenance, rehabilitation, or even replacement.

There were 13 people killed and 79 injured when the Interstate 35W bridge plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1. The eight-lane Interstate-35W bridge, which carried 141,000 vehicles a day, was in the midst of mostly resurfacing repairs when it buckled and collapsed during the Wednesday evening rush hour.

©Journal Inquirer 2007