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Gold Star Memorial Bridge remake: Delayed, with completion now some 10 years out

Some careful readers of The Day, like me, were surprised to come upon a short announcement earlier this month about repair work commencing on joints on the decking of the northbound side of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

Weren't we supposed to have seen a total replacement of the bridge decking begin by now? Why just a small repair project when they are planning to replace the whole thing? Is one of the signature projects of Connecticut infrastructure work on hold in this, the year of massive infrastructure funding?

After all, a $300 million rebuild of the northbound Gold Star, which was supposed to start in the spring of 2020, was the poster child of Gov. Ned Lamont's unsuccessful push for tolls.

In an elaborate February 2019 news conference under the Gold Star, with lawmakers flanking the governor, Lamont lamented the "structurally deficient" condition of the bridge.

"We need to keep these investments moving forward," Lamont said, gesturing in front of the cameras at the massive, deteriorating bridge overhead.

Indeed, the bridge is no longer able to carry the heaviest rated loads that need permits, and construction materials for projects at Electric Boat routinely are being diverted to the Mohegan Pequot Bridge further north on the river.

It took me a couple of weeks of posing questions to the state Department of Transportation about the 18-month delay in work on the northbound lanes of the Gold Star, until I finally got some answers from Bartholomew Sweeney, division chief of the department's bridge section.

It is an enormous project of daunting complexity, Sweeney explained, which has been broken into a series of phases.

The first of those phases has gone out to bid and an award of around $51 million is expected to be made soon, for steel work under the main deck structure. That work is expected to last three years and, since it us under the highway surface, it is not expected to have much impact on traffic.

The second phase, also structural steel work, I-beams and girders, might overlap with the end of phase one, but the current schedule calls for an award, estimated to be about $100 million, to be made by the beginning of 2025. It is also a three-year project that should have limited impact on traffic.

The phase after the structural steel work is done is the replacement of the highway deck, which will have enormous impact on traffic.

That phase, the furthest out, is the most subject to change, but the current estimate is for it to cost about $147 million, take two to three years to complete and not start until 2028.

That's nine years of construction, with most of the worst disruption in the final three years.

"We are going to try to compress those dates as we develop the process," Sweeney said.

They money for the Gold Star is essentially already in budget planning, and the new federal infrastructure funding that recently passed Congress is not going to be used for it.

But to put it in some perspective, the new federal money expected in Connecticut will be $3.5 billion for highways and $561 million over five years for bridge replacement and repair, not even twice what will be spent on the Gold Star.

The Gold Star, about a mile long, is what Sweeney calls "the biggest structure in our inventory."

The delays in the start of the final reconstruction project, he says, were because of the complexity of the project and the need to build a 3-D model to map the work.

Work on the first northbound phase is now scheduled to start in the spring.

It is going to take so long to finish, they are working on repairs to keep what will ultimately be replaced safe in the meantime.

This is the opinion of David Collins.



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