STONINGTON — In an unexpected move, the state Department of Transportation told town officials on Monday that it plans to fully replace the 83-year-old Alpha Street viaduct while preserving the through streets running below it.
The new plan, dubbed “option five,” came after the department offered several repair options, including a $25.5 million bridge replacement that would have closed off Cutler Street and parts of Main and Matthews streets, First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough told CT Examiner.
“I have to say I feel like they have gone above and beyond what our expectations have been. … Option five – it’s just a concept, they don’t have anything drawn – is a full replacement like option four was, but all within the same footprint, essentially,” she said. “The big thing is not closing off any roads – that was obviously our biggest concern.”
The 625-foot bridge, known as the Frank Turek viaduct, traverses Amtrak tracks and has provided the only vehicular access to Stonington Borough since 1940. From 1858 to 1940, the borough was accessible via a railroad crossing that became the site of multiple injuries and fatalities, independent historian Bob Suppicich explained in his 2011 presentation about the viaduct at the Stonington Historical Society.
The project requires raising the bridge 4 feet to meet the required clearance over the Amtrak line, and the bridge width will also be increased, Chesebrough said.
To compensate for adding height to the viaduct, Alpha Street on the Stonington end of the bridge will also be slightly raised to provide a more gradual angle of approach, which Chesebrough said would help address flooding issues in that area.
On the borough side, she said “they don’t think there’s much they can do to help on that because it’s so tight and the properties are right there. … But again, it was all very conceptual.”
The cost of “option five” has yet to be determined, but the town’s budget is capped at $1.2 million, Chesebrough said. Federal funds will supply 80 percent of the total, with the remainder paid by the state, according to a June 6 DOT presentation.
Alternative repair options were significantly cheaper and would have taken no land or buildings, but the 2022 Rehabilitation Study Report by consulting firm CHA Companies, of East Hartford, noted that repairing the bridge would extend its longevity by just 50 years and cost more to maintain.
“The replacement alternative offered significant cost savings for taxpayers through a much lower life cycle cost, with 75 years of reduced maintenance effort,” DOT spokesperson Josh Morgan told CT Examiner.
The DOT designs a 75-year lifespan for most new bridges and 100 years for major bridges, according to a department report.
Stonington Borough Fire Chief Jeff Hoadley also suggested working with Amtrak to allow an at-grade crossing for emergencies during construction of the new bridge, Chesebrough said.
Morgan said Amtrak is a stakeholder that will be involved in the project.
“CTDOT will provide Amtrak the opportunity to comment on milestone design submittals. We will be looking for railroad protective services as needed to enter the property for pre-construction activities. During construction phase, we would also coordinate any required track outages, and obtain railroad protective services, such as flaggers, for accessing their property,” he said.
The project schedule includes a public information session in the summer of 2024, preliminary designs in fall of 2024, and a “semi-final” design by 2025.“
We anticipate design completion in late summer of 2026 and construction start in spring of 2027,” Morgan said.