Old Mystic bridge gets attention at long last

Eight months after the flood of March 2010 damaged a small bridge and forced the closure of a section of Route 184 in Old Mystic, the state Department of Transportation had replaced the span and reopened the road at a cost of $2 million.

Last summer, the Nature Conservancy, with $147,000 in federal funding, dismantled a century-old, weakened earthen dam off Lane Way that town officials feared would break and flood the downstream Birdland neighborhood. The project is also designed to allow historical populations of alewife, American eel, brook trout and other species to repopulate Anguilla Brook.

And two weeks ago, the Town Hall Bridge along Main Street in North Stonington was reopened after being replaced at a cost of $2 million. It had been washed out by flood waters that turned the small stream below into a rushing river.

Meanwhile, the small bridge at the foot of North Stonington Road in Old Mystic between Shewville Road and Main Street that originally was thought to have been damaged by the flood remains closed. Jersey barriers and orange cans block vehicle access.

Work had begun on the bridge late last year but was stopped when the asphalt was taken off and it was discovered the concrete bridge deck was in much worse condition than expected.

The town is expected to receive revised plans calling for a much more expensive fix this week. Stonington and Groton are sharing the cost of the project, with Groton taking the lead on the design and construction.

While pedestrians can still walk over the 30-foot span that was built in 1934, it remains closed to cars and especially the fire trucks from the nearby Old Mystic Station 1 which have had to detour down Main Street to Route 27 for the past three years.

First Selectman Ed Haberek said he's received calls from residents and Old Mystic Fire Chief Ken Richards Jr., asking about the status of the bridge.

"I know it's been a long time and I'd like to see the bridge back in use," Haberek said. "But I understand what Groton has been going through."

Groton Director of Public Works Gary Schneider said that it was not the raging flood waters that inundated the area of Old Mystic at Main Street and Route 27 that damaged the bridge. Instead, its was the lack of maintenance over the past 40 years.

"It was in such poor condition that it couldn't hold a fire truck. We were lucky we didn't lose a vehicle," he said.

He said the firm that designed the $100,000 in original repairs, Alfred Benesch & Co. of Glastonbury, examined the bridge including the underside of it, but did not look below the asphalt on top. When the contractor removed the asphalt, workers found that the concrete bridge deck which is reinforced with metal bars, now rusted, had badly deteriorated. A core sample taken through the deck confirmed the finding. The bridge abutments are cracked and missing small pieces.

Work was stopped and Benesch began designing options for what will be a more extensive and expensive repair. The new work could cost as much as $300,000, according to Schneider.

"They're looking at options that are still cost effective," he said.

Schneider said the work would allow the bridge to operate for another decade during which time the two towns could figure out how to fund the cost of a new span. He said there is no federal or state funding currently available to replace the bridge.

"This is a maintenance project. We're coming up with a plan to get some more life out of it," he said.

He said replacing the bridge would involve a host of other costly issues such as whether it should be widened for a bike lane, protecting wetlands during the work, the possibility of realigning the stream below and incorporating flood prevention measures.

J.WOJTAS@THEDAY.COM

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