East Lyme - After three years of work, Amtrak is nearly done replacing the bridge over the Niantic River.
Only the finishing touches remain - painting, paving and putting up fencing, Andrew R. Ingram, an engineer of structures for Amtrak, said Tuesday.
Nearly all of the work will be complete this month, Ingram said, and Amtrak is planning for a public ceremony in early June to mark the project's completion.
Amtrak built a two-track, electrified railroad bascule bridge across the Niantic River between East Lyme and Waterford, 58 feet south of the old bridge.
The project is expected to be completed on schedule but at a cost higher than estimated. Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman, declined to say specifically why the price rose from $140 million to about $153 million, but did say slight increases are not unexpected with bridge replacement projects.
The Niantic River Bridge is Amtrak's largest current bridge replacement project, in terms of cost, and Amtrak paid for the additional expenses from its general capital fund, Ingram said. The bridge is being funded with Amtrak's capital budget and with federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The new bridge will be more reliable and convenient than the century-old structure it replaced, Ingram said.
It has a new backup power system for when commercial power goes out, and the navigational channel below was widened from 45 feet to about 100 feet, with an additional 5 feet of vertical clearance, so more boats may pass through without the bridge opening, Ingram said. It can open in about a minute and a half, twice as fast as before.
Trains are currently traveling across the bridge as intended and boats are passing underneath, Ingram said.
The old bridge was removed in February, cut apart and sent to a facility in New Haven for disposal. Some of the parts, however, were kept to be preserved.
The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic took the old bridge control house for a display and components were sent to historical societies and to the towns of East Lyme and Waterford, Ingram said. Many granite blocks were reused at the site.
The new boardwalk and beach area, which were part of the project, will be open after the public ceremony, he added. The crew for the contractor, Cianbro/Middlesex Joint Venture, is currently touching up the paint on the bridge, repaving a section of the parking lot in Cini Memorial Park and finishing the site grading.
Both Ingram and Cole said Amtrak is grateful to the towns of East Lyme and Waterford and to the public, especially the local boating community, for their cooperation and patience during the project.