The Lynn Road Bridge Saga: An End is in Sight
After a series of twists, turns and delays, including a final-hour halt from the State Preservation Committee and the state’s budget woes freezing promised funding, the Lynn Road Bridge project is again on the forward march.
The funds are finally in place, according to Scott Medeiros, the Woodard and Curran engineer working on the project. The job will be advertised in late January; a pre-bid is planned for early February; and the bids should open at the end of February.
The 13-foot, 70-year-old bridge over the Falls River—a Work Progress Administration (WPA) project constructed in 1939—has been an ongoing headache for the town ever since it was determined to have structural deficiencies. The path to replacing it has been a rocky one, with several boulders tossed in by forces beyond the town’s control.
In 2014, “the town scrambled to submit an application” to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) for its local bridge program “and intended it as a relatively small submittal,” said Medeiros. The cost was estimated at the comparatively low figure of $300,000 to $350,000 to replace the deck of the bridge only. This, assuming state funding came through, would have put Westbrook on the hook for a maximum of roughly $192,000.
That was not to be.
“We got in and looked at it and came to the conclusion that you couldn’t just put a deck on it; the substructure didn’t meet the specifications of the program,” Medeiros said. “The cost jumped dramatically.”
Supplemental paperwork was now necessary, and Medeiros based his next estimate on what appeared to be a similar project: the Winthrop Road bridge, estimated at around $700,000.
But further investigation revealed even that figure to be too low. When a geo-technical inspection was conducted, “we found that the piles were extraordinarily deep,” Medeiros explained. “The rock is so deep there. It added cost to the project,” which now rose to about $1.4 million.
In 2013, town voters had approved $900,000 in bonding authority for design and engineering services for work on the Lynn Road, Winthrop Road, and Flat Rock Place bridges. In June 2016, the voters approved a supplemental bonding authorization of $105,000 for the Lynn Road bridge project and $130,000 for the Flat Rock Place bridge work. The town’s application to the state was approved, and state and federal transportation grant funds were promised to complete the construction budgets. The project appeared to be on track.
Woodard and Curran completed design and bid drawings for the new Lynn Road bridge at the end of 2016, and these were approved by DOT, pending state environmental and historic reviews. In February 2017, the town released the project to bid but, at nearly the final hour, DOT informed the town that it was withholding funding due to a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) determination that the design did not incorporate enough of the historic bridge’s original stone.
This was a huge blow to the town. But Medeiros got to work, reaching a compromise with the SHPO on a new bridge design.
“We re-did the structural calculations,” Medeiros said, and the use of additional stone resulted in changes to the design that once again added to the cost.
In response to the resolution of the historic requirements, DOT re-committed its funding of the project, of $787,000.
The story didn’t end there, however: Due to the state’s budget crisis, the funds were frozen yet again. Once more, the Lynn Road bridge project was put on hold. This put the town in a rather uncomfortable bind.
“We were trying to lobby for the money,” Medeiros said. “The town had already paid for the design work and couldn’t move the project forward. We waited a year for them to unfreeze the money.”
The state paperwork has now been signed and submitted and the financial pieces are falling into place. The state grant will cover 45.06 percent of the project’s cost, estimated at $1.75 million. The town’s bond process is being enacted.
That cost estimate is from 2017 and will be re-evaluated, however, said Medeiros.
“There are issues related to some materials that are affected by the international trade tariffs,” he said.
The tariffs and trade issues “may or may not have an appreciable affect on this,” he continued. “It won’t likely affect concrete or any of the other domestic products, but some of the steel reinforcements and some of the pile materials [and] sheeting…these could have some incremental cost increase...But this project might not be big enough for it to have a viable impact.”
The state will send the town the agreed-upon funds for the 2017 estimated cost of the project; these funds will be placed in an account. If the cost goes up, the state will supplement its monies at the same rate of 45.06 percent. If the project costs less than anticipated, the town will reimburse the state for the difference; the project’s estimated cost includes a 10 percent construction contingency fund.
The cost estimate will be updated by the time the project goes out to bid, Medeiros said.