Updated, 2:52 p.m., comment about warning devices.
NORWALK, Conn. — The state is standing by its proposed height for the East Avenue railroad bridge, refusing a request from the Norwalk Common Council made in response to citizen fears about tractor trailers ruining the neighborhood.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) on Thursday sent a letter to Norwalk’s legislative delegation saying that its proposed 14-foot 3-inch height of the bridge is safe and that the 13-foot 6-inch height requested by the Council would not allow trucks of legal height to go through.
“The Department understands the public concerns expressed through the Common Council resolution and has strived to balance the competing interests of preservation and compliance with current bridge and highway geometric design standards by proposing the 14′-3″ clearance,” the letter signed by ConnDOT Commissioner James Redeker stated. “…The Department believes strongly that it has found the proper balance relative to the vertical clearance in this location.”
The state’s desire to lower East Avenue under the railroad bridge has been a bone of contention for years. The Council’s move in January to approve a $359,000 contract for work that includes a traffic study in the area, in preparation for the road lowering, resulted in a big turnout for an unusual public hearing.
“The clearance of that bridge serves as a big-rig repellent,” Sarah Hunter said. “Trucks don’t come down there because they know they’re going to hit it.”
Council members voted 7-6-2 to request that ConnDOT consider a 13-foot 6-inch height for the bridge rather than the 14-foot, 3-inch height that is planned. They approved the contract in February.
The design standard for the bridge is 16-feet, 3-inches and the road is classified as an urban principal arterial, Redeker wrote.
“Its primary function is to convey traffic from local and collector roads to an expressway,” Redeker wrote.
The bridge is occasionally hit by a truck; Redeker said there have been 27 bridge strikes between 2010 and 2015. Each time the bridge must be assessed by inspectors, he said.
“Besides the risk of impact damage to the railroad bridge and truck occupants, there is potential risk to Metro-North passenger rail traffic and interruption of train service until bridge impact damage is assessed and repaired when necessary,” Redeker wrote.
“The Department believes that increasing the vertical vehicular bridge clearance to 14′-3″ will enhance public safety and strikes a desirable balance between design standards and local site constraints,” Redeker wrote. “This bridge has a long history of overhead strikes from trucks that the Department is committed to reducing.”
East Norwalk residents had argued that the state could put up warning devices to stop truck drivers from hitting the bridge.
“With respect to alternative warning devices, the Department would not artificially limit vertical clearance on a new bridge to a substandard height for the sole purpose of impeding truck traffic where proper vertical clearance could otherwise be obtained,” Redeker said. “Generally, over-height detection systems, while used in some locations, are considered interim measures or where the necessary vertical clearance cannot be obtained for other engineering reasons such as roadway drainage or significant operational or property impacts. Additionally, over-height detection systems typically require sufficient area for a large truck to turn around and, if installed where there is insufficient area for trucks to safely turn around, dangerous conditions and/or significant traffic congestion can result.”