East Lyme announces Amtrak plans for Main Street fence replacement

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced this week that Amtrak has reserved money as part of its 2021 budget to replace a dilapidated chain-link fence running the length of Main Street next to the Amtrak rail line with a new, black “decorative” fence.

He said the announcement comes as the present fence lining Main Street is deteriorating, creating safety, security and aesthetic issues for the downtown area. Nickerson said a fence replacement has been a hope for the town as part of a 20-year downtown revitalization plan he said he helped create with town officials while he sat on the Zoning Commission.

“The last piece of the 'Niantic Renaissance' plan was to update (the fence),” Nickerson said.

“There are some breaches in that fence. Some bending in that fence. Someone could climb it,” he continued, explaining that weather and trees growing along the fence have warped it. Riprap rock placed alongside the train tracks also now is falling into the fence. (Amtrak is) looking for better security. It’s not just an aesthetic thing.”

An email left with an Amtrak official on the plans for the fence had not been immediately returned by Wednesday's deadline.

Nickerson said he believes the fence will be replaced along the stretch of Main Street extending from the Main Street Park — which the town opened to the public in the summer of 2018 — to the Niantic River Bridge. He said he also hopes the fence will be replaced extending west from the Main Street Park to the Hole in the Wall Beach area.

He said he does not know how much the fence replacement will cost but that it will be financed by Amtrak and will not be a town expense.

Though Nickerson said he has been pushing Amtrak for a fence replacement since he came into office nearly five years ago, he said that Amtrak official William Hollister confirmed the rail service had budgeted for the replacement last week after Nickerson called to check on its status after pushing the issue “over the last couple weeks.”

“I’ve been assured that it’s in the budget and they recognize the need for security,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson said he could not state an exact timeline as to when the town would receive the fence, but said he suggested that Amtrak officials time the replacement to coincide with the Department of Transportation’s 20-month Niantic Bridge rehabilitation project, which is expected to start next April and extend through September 2021.

The scope of the Niantic River Bridge project includes replacing the waterproofing membrane, wearing surface and bridge joints on the roadway surface, a full repainting of the bridge, replacement of the mechanical and electrical systems of the lift bridge, and updates to the operator’s control house and traffic safety features, DOT has said.

“That would probably be prime time to do it,” Nickerson said. “While Amtrak was offering to do this a little bit earlier, I was saying, ‘Why don’t we do the fence with the bridge project and close the road just once. You will have cops there anyways, bridge closures, detours, the whole bit.’”

Nickerson said Amtrak still would need to talk with DOT to see if coordinated projects are a possibility.

m.biekert@theday.com

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