MTA and Connecticut leaders discuss problems with 118-year old bridge

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One boat passing under a 118-year-old bridge can change the commute for thousands of riders on Metro-North’s New Haven line.

Marine rules require the “Walk” Bridge over the Norwalk River between East Norwalk and South Norwalk in Connecticut to be lifted and rotated to allow tall boats, barges and sailboats to pass through.

The bridge was built in 1896. Last week, for the second time in a week, it got stuck and stopped the Metro-North New Haven Line in its tracks.

Officials on Monday met in midtown Manhattan to address the problem at the request of Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. A panel of experts and engineers, by mid-July, will prepare a report on possible fixes. Some repairs have been made since Governor Malloy came into office in 2011.

The last big rehabilitation project was in 1992.

On Friday, June 6 and previously on May 29, the Norwalk Bridge could not be returned to the closed position after being moved to accommodate shipping traffic in the Norwalk River.

In 2013, it happened 16 times.

Metro-North and Amtrak use the tracks. Metro-North says the bridge rotates 5 or 6 times a week.

Walk Bridge (photo: NE Corridor Infrastructure & Operations Advisory Commission)

Walk Bridge (photo: NE Corridor Infrastructure & Operations Advisory Commission)

The state of Connecticut owns the bridge and has requested a $350 million federal grant to replace it. A new bridge could be built at another site and brought to the location. Getting a new one could take four years.

The MTA maintains the structure and New Haven Line, under an operating agreement with the state of Connecticut. More than 2 dozen Metro-North crew members are stationed at the bridge to assist it, according to officials.

The bridge can be raised at any time during the day. At night there, notice must be given. If a train is approaching, boat traffic must wait. The Coast Guard granted a waiver in 2007 that allowed the bridge to remain closed from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The MTA, Governor Malloy’s office and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are asking the government to allow the bridge to remain closed for a longer amount of time in the morning and evening.

It takes about 30 minutes for the structure to open and close.

“In the short term, every procedure, protocol and engineering solution must get the immediate attention of the most qualified team of experts to ensure reliable service for Connecticut commuters,” said Governor Malloy. “But the long-term aim is to find and fund a replacement, and I’m glad today to have the public support from the MTA on our application for Federal funding.”

Opponents of Governor Malloy says his administration has used transit funds for other purposes. The Governor says his administration has increased the amount of transportation funding and any change is only an accounting move.

MTA and Connecticut leaders held a media briefing after Monday’s closed-door session.

“Every time this 118-year-old bridge fails to close properly, our customers suffer the consequences of decades of delay and neglect,” said MTA Chairman Prendergast. “We are working closely with our partners in Connecticut to support their efforts to make temporary repairs to keep this bridge operating while they pursue federal funding to replace it with a modern bridge.”