NORWALK, Conn. – Preparatory work for the Walk Bridge replacement project is underway, and major construction will begin next year, officials said Wednesday.
“This project is not only going to help the (rail) corridor between Boston, New York and Washington, 197 trains travel over this bridge every day. But it’s also going to help travel around Norwalk. And a lot of the work is being done right now. You don’t see it,” Mayor Harry Rilling said, crediting the engineers hard work and ingenuity for attempting to minimize Norwalk’s pain as the State works to ensure the rail corridor maintains its functionality for decades to come.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
Rilling joined U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) near the bridge to announce $15 million in federal funding for the Norwalk Walk Bridge project, which will also repair and upgrade three aging railroad bridges.
Blumenthal spoke of “an ongoing brawl in Washington” over infrastructure funding but called the Walk Bridge “a critical juncture, a connecting point for all of the Northeast Corridor.”
The overall project is expected to cost $1.6 billion, though estimates are tough to develop given escalation, inflation and supply chain issues, engineer Michael Mendick said. “We will be getting updated pricing towards the end of the year.”
It’s a seven-year project he said.
Not only will the 125-year-old railroad bridge over the Norwalk River be replaced, but the Fort Point Street, Osborne Avenue and East Avenue railroad bridges will be replaced.
They’re “wonderful relics, still serviceable, but well beyond their intended lifespan,” Blumenthal said. “The objectives here are safety and speed, but also resilience and reliability. We need to improve the speed and safety of our commuter and our rail lines generally, the way to do it is to make sure our bridges work well and that people trust them. And that means replacing them when they have outlived their intended lifespan.”
He said, “The way that these projects will proceed, are intended to cause minimum disruption.”
“Minimal disruption is not zero disruption,” Mednick said. “There’s obviously going to be some impacts to local train schedules as well. But we’ve done immense efforts to coordinate those.”
He said, “There’s advanced utility work in East Avenue occurring right now, which is relocating and undergrounding all the utilities.” Next year, advance work for the Walk Bridge itself will start, with a “micro tunnel” going under the river to service power and signals.
The Walk Bridge will be replaced in stages, two tracks at a time. “We’re trying to sync the outages,” Mednick said. The CP-243 project, a series of switches near Norden Place, is nearly complete.
“That advance work, which is behind the scenes is really paving the way to minimize those disruptions and provide all the operational flexibility that MetroNorth, Amtrak and all the freight railroads that run on this line every single day, will need,” Mednick said.
“This replacement program will not mean major disruption in the long term,” Blumenthal said. “It will boost our economy a lot of local contractors and skilled workers will be employed here. It will mean more jobs for more contractors and more workers but it will also mean a tremendous boost to Norwalk and to this work surrounding era. Norwalk will benefit. And the ripple effect economically, will be tangible and tremendously important.”
“This is a project of national importance,” Himes said. “If the rail lines between Washington, New York and Boston go down, it is a major economic blow, not to mention an inconvenience to thousands of people.”
Blumenthal spoke of sitting in a train somewhere between DC and New Jersey and listening to a conductor apologize for a temporary delay. “It’s the Walk Bridge that is responsible,” he said.
The $15 million is “just a down payment,” Blumenthal said. “…The federal government has to make these bridges work, because the entire Northeast Corridor depends on it. When the Walk Bridge goes down. The ramifications are felt down in Washington, DC and south.”