2001_07-19 Newtown BeeOriginal article posted on the internet at:
By ANDREW GOROSKO
In light of environmental concerns, the timetable has been pushed back about one year for building a new bridge across the Housatonic River just upstream of Stevenson Dam, with state transportation planners now projecting the new span to be open to traffic by early 2006.
The new $40-million bridge would replace the existing narrow, deteriorated bridge atop Stevenson Dam, which carries traffic across the river between Monroe and Oxford on Route 34. Workmen this week were scheduled to improve the existing bridge's structural strength.
Brian Cunningham, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) manager for the new bridge construction project, said Wednesday that DOT engineers are developing detailed plans on how best to construct the new bridge with minimal disturbance to Housatonic riverbed sediments. Riverbed sediments in that area contain toxic PCBs, mercury and lead.
The planned two-lane bridge would sit about 30 feet above the river on several large steel-reinforced concrete piers. The river is about 60 feet deep in that area. The bridge piers would extend down 30 feet below the riverbed to reach bedrock.
People concerned about the planned bridge construction project have urged the state not to unnecessarily disturb riverbed sediments in the bridge construction process to avoid dispersing the toxic chemicals downstream.
DOT planners had intended to submit their bridge construction applications to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last year, but rethought the application process, deciding to include more bridge construction information in it, Mr Cunningham said. The applications will better describe the construction methods needed to build a new bridge with minimal disturbance of riverbed sediments, he said. The span is to be constructed without lowering the river's level. The Housatonic River in that area is known as Lake Zoar. It is heavily used for recreation.
In its applications to the DEP, the DOT will describe how the bridge would be built, instead of allowing the contractor which is chosen for the bridge building project to design the bridge construction process, Mr Cunningham said. The need for DOT to clearly establish the bridge construction process has created the delay in the application process, he said.
The DOT expects to submit its bridge construction applications to the DEP in December 2001 or January 2002, Mr Cunningham said. DOT construction advertising would start in December 2002, with bridge building commencing in the spring of 2003, he said. Based on that timetable, the new span would open to traffic in late 2005 or early 2006, he said.
The DEP will be reviewing bridge construction methods, stormwater discharge, and the project's effects on nearby wetlands and floodplains.
Mr Cunningham said the DOT plans to hold a public meeting late this year or early next year to inform the public about the status of the bridge building project. The date and location of the session has not yet been set. At the meeting, the DOT would describe its construction plans and answer questions from the public.
The bridge construction project proved controversial at a 1998 DOT informational meeting in Monroe. Opponents of a new bridge called for DOT to rebuild the existing deteriorated bridge that sits atop Stevenson Dam. The dam and that bridge were built in 1919.
As now planned, the new span would link Monroe to Oxford about 100 yards upstream of the existing bridge. New bridge construction will not eliminate the Monroe boat launch upriver of Stevenson Dam. Besides building a curving span across the river, the construction project will involve building lengthy new bridges approaches on both side of the bridge.
The new bridge is estimated to cost between $30 and $35 million to build. When design costs are included, the project is expected to cost somewhat less than $40 million. Federal funds would cover 80 percent of project costs, with state funding covering the remainder.
Traffic would travel on the bridge atop Stevenson Dam while the new bridge is under construction. After the new bridge is built, the aging bridge on the dam would be closed to traffic. Northeast Generating Company owns the bridge on the hydroelectric dam.
Opponents of a new bridge have charged that it would create PCB pollution hazards, increase commercial traffic in the area, result in increased development, pose unnecessary costs, adversely affect area recreation, and contaminate river fish with PCBs.