If you travel backroads to go between Essex and Westbrook, you’ve probably crossed over the Lynn Road bridge. Just 13 feet long, the stone bridge over Falls River was built in 1939 by the federal Works Progress Administration. Now 75 years old, it was slated for replacement in 2017. Inspections rated the superstructure and decking condition as poor and the substructure and footings as fair. But progress stalled after the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in February ruled the bridge of historic significance and the design drawings the town had released for bidding, flawed: The bridge replacement design did not preserve enough of the original bridge’s historic stones.
The SHPO finding came at the very end of the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) environmental review process. The town decided to release the Lynn Road bridge project to bidding even though the environmental review was still open because SHPO had not yet weighed in. Unfortunately, that proved to be a bad choice when SHPO finally did visit the bridge it demanded a redesign. So it was back to the drawing boards for town consulting engineer Woodard & Curran to work with SHPO to find a new design to better reflect the bridge’s history.
Since the contractor bids the town had received were based on a design found unacceptable by SHPO, the bids in March were rejected by the Board of Selectmen.
At an early March meeting, Woodard & Curran engineer Scott Medeiros told the Board of Selectmen that a new design was needed that would re-use existing stones of the bridge parapet and that would incorporate more original stones as facing for the two inner roadbed walls and innerwalls.
By the end of the summer, Woodard & Curran had completed a re-design to preserve more of the historic bridge’s components in the new replacement bridge, as SHPO had demanded. Now it was time to once again issue requests for proposals, but there was a stumbling block: The new design would cost more to build than town leaders had already approved and budgeted for the Lynn Road bridge replacement. Another $369,000 was needed to build the revised bridge design. That would bring the budget to replace the 13-foot Lynn Road bridge with a new 20-foot bridge to $1.7 million.
Before the town could ask for a new round of bids, the boards of Selectmen and Finance first had to approve this added funding.
The plan developed by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance was to tap unused bridge project bonding authorization that was already approved by the town. On Oct. 19, the Board of Finance voted use short-term borrowing to cover the bridge budget shortfall. Town Attorney Michael Wells and the town’s bond counsel agreed that this approach would not need Town Meeting approval since voters had already authorized more bonding for the bridge than had been used.
According to First Selectman Noel Bishop, with the funding now in place, the town would seek bids this fall for the bridge replacement construction project. The new Lynn Road bridge will be 20 feet in length instead of the current 13 and will have foundation supports reaching down to bedrock. As a result, the new longer length will also require it to be included on DOT’s bridge inspection schedule. At the shorter length, this bridge had not been included.
The bridge replacement work is tentatively schedule to proceed during the 2018 construction season. Once the town selects a contractor and awards a contract, a 2018 project time frame would be set. It is likely that the bridge crossing will be closed for several months while the bridge is replaced.
Of the project’s $1.7 million cost, the state DOT will pay 45 percent.
The Town of Westbrook’s electors voted in May 2013 to authorize $900,000 in bonding to pay for design and engineering services for two town bridge replacement projects, the Lynne Road Bridge and the Winthrop Road bridge, and for improvements and repair to the Flat Rock Place bridge. In June 2016, voters approved a supplemental bonding authorization of $105,000 for the Lynne Road bridge project and $130,000 for the Flat Rock Place bridge work.
State and federal transportation project funding were promised for all of these projects.
Note: The spelling of the Lynn Road bridge name appears without a final “e” on official documents but with a final “e” on the street sign.