NORWALK, Conn. – It’s a bit of a flip on the old bit of sarcasm about selling some poor sucker a bridge.
If Norwalk can get its collective hands on $300 million, there’s a bridge it wants to buy – a replacement for the post-Civil War-era Walk Bridge, the railroad span over the Norwalk River that is a crucial link in the busy Northeast Corridor.
The current span has broken down twice since the leaves reappeared on the trees, causing chaos for commuters and disruptions for Amtrak travelers. And while a temporary fix is in the works, Norwalk pols say a permanent solution is imperative.
“I’d love a new bridge,” said state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) recently. “We just need to find $300 million. That’s why we’re going after Sandy money.”
The federal government has made about $5 billion available to the Northeast states ravaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. New York, Perone and state Sen. Bob Duff said, wants all of it.
“New York … feels they deserve all of it, and there’s just no way you can make that case because … when that bridge fails, New England is cut off from the rest of the country,” Perone said. “It’s just a really bad idea on every possible level. So it is something that is gotta be dealt with. If the state of New York doesn’t want to see that bridge fixed, how they will get their goods?”
Duff said a letter, signed by 108 state lawmakers, was sent to federal transit administration officials to try to pry loose the cash.
“It’s going to happen either way, but if we get the federal money it just happens all that much quicker,” he said, “because, if it’s a $300 million project, it’s a lot of money for the state to shoulder, especially when two of the four railroad tracks on this line, two of them are used by Amtrak. It’s not just we’re using it ourselves for exclusive use, it’s being used by people all up and down the Northeast Corridor. So this is a responsibility of the federal government just as much as it is the state government, and the federal government has always helped to maintain our infrastructure. (I-95) is an interstate highway, that is an interstate rail line.”
Perone tried to put the enormity of the project into perspective.
“It is a moon landing. I mean, it is a huge undertaking,” he said. “Just listening to the logistics, you are trying to fix a huge bridge and both banks are populated and there’s that. To me, the nearest comparison I think of it is Robert Moses, going through the South Bronx. They didn’t build the Cross Bronx and build around it, they took eminent domain and built the Cross Bronx.”
Perone would like to see the state pony up a few extra dollars for a tack upgrade as well.
“It would be nice to see not only the bridge fixed but the train bed angled so the Acela can go through at the real speed it was intended,” he said, “because you have a bullet train that has to slow down to 30 miles per hour because in this part of Fairfield County the train beds have to be angled on the curves for the train to be able to do what it is designed to do.”
There is temporary help on the way. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Department of Transportation (CTDOT) Commissioner James P. Redeker on Thursday released a report outlining recommendations for short-term fixes to improve the reliability of the Walk Bridge. Malloy also announced that the State Bond Commission is expected to approve $3 million at its meeting Friday to fund the improvements recommended in the report.
“The New Haven Line is the busiest commuter rail line in America and one malfunctioning bridge can disrupt the entire Northeast Corridor,” Malloy said in an emailed statement. “Because our customers – and our economy – rely on this system every day, we are implementing these fixes to increase reliability in the near term until the full replacement of the Walk Bridge can begin.”
Said Duff, “We’ve spent about $10 million already maintaining it and repairing it. If we spend another $3 million or at least, in the short term from that point it will get us through to where we can get shovels in the ground to get a new bridge.”
The $3M in state funding will pay for work on the devices that lift the rails and re-seat them, and other improvements that will restore the automated operation to the bridge, according to a Malloy press release.
Redeker said the fixes will include establishing a separate drive system to open and close the movable pieces of rail that lock the bridge into place, installing electronic switches, and implementing repairs to rollers and rods in the center pier on which the bridge pivots. A gear and shaft system will also be readjusted to properly align wedges at either end of the movable span that lock it into place. The new mechanisms will be programmed into the automation of the bridge to reduce the manpower currently needed to open the bridge.
Malloy expects to receive an answer to his request for $360M in federal funds by this fall, the release said.