New Milford ponders fixing failing bridge
NEW MILFORD — The town is trying to fix one of the five worst bridges in Litchfield County — but it’s not easy.
The location, state requirements and neighbors’ concerns are making it difficult to determine the best way to accomplish the task.
The Merryall Road bridge, which spans the West Aspetuck River near West Meetinghouse Road, has a rating of four out of 10 and is classified as “poor condition.”
The town’s public works department is hoping to be able to start the construction next year to fix this.
Public Works Director Mike Zarba presented a few options to the Town Council on Monday to fix the bridge, ranging in price from a little over $3 million to $5.48 million.
The problem is the cheapest option, which would build a new bridge slightly north of the existing one, cuts into nearly 200 feet of private property. The Schipuls, who live there, oppose the idea and town officials don’t seem eager to follow that route either.
“This is extremely invasive to someone’s property compared to reconstructing where it already is,” Councilman Paul Szymanksi said.
The Schipuls said their children swim in the river through the property and they have been good stewards of the land, purchasing and donating a nearby parcel to a local land trust so it can preserve the natural beauty of the area.
Zarba told the council members he just had to present the options because cost tends to be a big factor in the council’s discussions about projects. He said they’ve been working with the Schipuls and weren’t considering eminent domain.
But while the new bridge is the cheapest option now because a standard box culvert can be installed at a narrower part of the river, it doesn’t account for the money that would be needed to purchase the land from the Schipuls, which several council members said will be more expensive either in purchasing land or in legal fees for an eminent domain case.
“This is not what our town is about,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hida. “We are about neighbors and families.”
The other options include rebuilding the bridge in place, either by closing the road, using a temporary bridge or doing it one lane at a time to keep it open during the construction. These are more expensive because a deep foundation needs to be made to support the new bridge. The angle and width of the river also doesn’t allow for a box culvert.
Council members asked Zarba and Town Engineer Dan Stanton to look into ways and costs to build the bridge faster. They’re also charged with finding out how the design and costs could change if the town didn’t use state money and so not have to meet certain state requirements.
Among the requirements is a 90-foot entry that leads into the bridge.
“That’s two Greyhound buses in a rural area,” Richard Schipul said. “That’s crazy.”
The current plan is to have the town cover 53 percent of the costs and the state picking up the remaining 47 percent.
Some council members estimate that by using only local money, they might be able to have a design that better suits the rural nature of the area. They also think the town can finish the project faster and cheaper, especially if public works does the administration parts and they don’t have to set aside such a large amount for contingencies.
“To me it’s absurd that we’re going to spend this much on one bridge,” Szymanski said.
Another challenge with this project is that residents of northern Merryall told town officials at a public meeting that they did not want the road closed for the work. That caused the town to go back to the drawing board and look at the option of building a new bridge in a new place.
Zarba said a project done in Merryall years ago, before he joined the department, encountered a delay which caused the road to be closed for two years. He suspected that might be why the residents were so opposed to the road closure option this time.
Merryall has about 630 daily vehicles at the bridge and West Meetinghouse has about 850 daily vehicles.
Prospective road detours clock in at around 12 minutes, based on Monday’s presentation.
Town Council members also requested the actual time it took to complete the three most recent bridge projects compared to the estimates so they would have a better idea of a closure before making a decision.