Salem residents voice concern about plans to replace Route 85 bridge

Salem — Preliminary plans to replace a bridge over Little Brook on Route 85 caused a stir at a Department of Transportation public information meeting Wednesday night.

A small but passionate crowd attended the meeting, mostly to express their concerns about the plan, which would close Route 85 just south of Witch Meadow Road and Rattlesnake Ledge Road for two weeks in the summer of 2020 to replace the bridge.

Bridge No. 02540 was built in 1926. The current structure, a nine-foot concrete slab on stone masonry abutments, has cracks and other deterioration with the possibility of flooding in the event of a "100-year" flood. The DOT recommended it be replaced by a pre-fabricated box culvert and wingwalls, a process known as accelerated bridge construction. The entire project would take about five months and cost $1.7 million, with 80 percent coming from federal funds and 20 percent from state funds.

The plan would take traffic off Route 85 onto Witch Meadow Road, Route 11 and Route 82 before connecting back up to Route 85, and vice versa. The presentation by DOT project managers and engineers said the full detour would take nine minutes, which nearly everyone in the room decried, claiming drivers would have to speed to do it.

First Selectman Kevin Lyden, joined by a few other selectmen, the chiefs from both volunteer fire departments and other area residents, said he did not support the plan. He commended the DOT for bringing the option to the town for input, and the town approved a similar plan for bridge replacements on Route 82 near the East Haddam line, but he noted this plan would hurt the town, especially with regard to emergency services.

"Salem Fire House, right now, is a quarter-mile from here. As soon as you take out that bridge, it's six miles from here," he said.

Several fire department members noted the response times would increase dramatically with the road closure, since many volunteers also live south of the bridge, and the tankers couldn't take the narrow side roads to avoid the proposed detour.

"It all comes down to that's the main artery," Salem Volunteer Fire Company Chief Gene Maiorano said.

The proposed plans are available at the DOT Office of Engineering, 2800 Berlin Turnpike in Newington, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Anyone interested in discussing the project can contact Bryan Reed, transportation supervising engineer, at (860) 594-3418.

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