Conn. Bridge Replacement Would Be Disruptive, Businesses Say

Aug 11, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 6:59 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has been promising to upgrade the nation's crumbling infrastructure. There are more than 55,000 bridges in the U.S. in serious need of a fix. Big repair projects can pay off in the long run, but they bring the pain for commuters and nearby businesses during construction - case in point, a century-old swing bridge in Norwalk, Conn. It is an ancient but essential part of the nation's busiest rail corridor. Some local businesses are looking at plans for repairing the bridge and worrying about their economic survival. Ryan Caron King of member station WNPR reports.

RYAN CARON KING, BYLINE: The Norwalk River Railroad Bridge, known locally as the Walk Bridge, has two jobs. One of them is to carry hundreds of trains over the river each day. The other is to swing open for boats traveling between Long Island Sound and the Norwalk River.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRIDGE ALARM)

CARON KING: To let tall boats pass through, the Walk Bridge rotates on a circular pier. It takes a crew of eight about 10 minutes to open and close the bridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRIDGE MOVING)

CARON KING: Bruce Clouette is a historian who studied movable bridges in Connecticut.

BRUCE CLOUETTE: Although we call it a bridge, you have to keep in mind that it's much more than a bridge. It's actually a machine as well as a bridge.

CARON KING: But the machine itself hasn't been working so well. The Walk Bridge got stuck open, twice in 2014 and again last year, stranding hundreds of commuters. So the state is planning to build a new bridge. It's a half-a-billion-dollar project. Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker says replacing the bridge is critical to the Northeast Corridor.

JIM REDEKER: The current Walk Bridge, 120 years old, is a single structure with four tracks on it. So when it fails, the entire Northeast Corridor and New Haven line cannot operate.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN MOVING)

CARON KING: More than 100,000 people cross over the Walk Bridge each day. Some are commuting from Connecticut to New York. Others are riding the Amtrak line between Washington, D.C., and Boston. In Norwalk, the bridge's steel beams sit only a few feet away from an aquarium at the center of the city's entertainment district. The state will help relocate some of the exhibits, part of its plan to limit the impact of bridge construction. But not everyone is ready for the disruption.

PETER LIBRE: Once you have a huge construction project tying up traffic, causing congestion, making it difficult for people to park and pass through, it's going to have a big impact on the South Norwalk business community.

CARON KING: That's Peter Libre, an eye surgeon who kayaks under the bridge to work. He's standing in his backyard at the mouth of Norwalk's harbor with his neighbor Bob Kunkel. Kunkel is a ship builder and owns a local business near the river.

BOB KUNKEL: I want to see DOT understand the collateral damage that can happen.

CARON KING: Kunkel says the state shouldn't be making a huge investment in a new bridge when the federal government has plans for a high-speed rail in the region in the coming decades. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Caron King.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAVES OF STEEL'S "SUMMER HIT AND RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.