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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Northbound Gold Star Bridge project to begin this spring

    Traffic crosses the Thames River between New London and Groton on May 1, 2020, over the Interstate 95 Gold Star Memorial Bridge. The northbound span, at right, is slated for a rehabilitation project. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    A long-planned project to repair and strengthen the northbound span of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge is slated to begin this spring.

    The span, which carries nearly 60,000 vehicles each day between Groton and New London, is rated in poor condition and is in need of work but poses no safety risk to the public, according to the state Department of Transportation.

    The recent collapse of a bridge in Pittsburgh put renewed focus on the safety of bridges and infrastructure across the United States.

    Bart Sweeney, transportation division chief of the DOT's bridge unit, said the Gold Star, the longest bridge in the state, is inspected every two years and no deficiencies were found that would require the bridge to be more frequently inspected or closed.

    "If the lowest rating is greater than or equal to 7, the bridge is classified as Good; if it is less than or equal to 4, the classification is Poor. Bridges rated 5 or 6 are classified as Fair,” according to the Federal Highway Administration. The Gold Star's northbound span's deck and superstructure received a 4, or "poor" rating, while its foundation received a 5 or "fair" rating, after the inspection done in 2019.

    Sweeney said the "poor" rating serves as an indicator that a bridge needs repairs or replacement and is the reason why DOT initiated the project for the northbound span. "Generally speaking, once a bridge becomes poor, it has many, many, many years of safe service life ahead of it is but that is the indicator we generally use to initiate projects," he said.

    "Structures can be in poor condition for decades and still carry all traffic safely," he added. "We don’t like them to stay in poor condition for very long so that’s why we get a project initiated, and we try to advance it as quickly as possible. This bridge poses no threat to the public at all as far as the safety of the bridge."

    He said the state agency adheres to national standards and the comprehensive inspection program entails examining all over the bridge, including the foundation, superstructure, deck and joints.

    The project will address the poor condition of the bridge and also the strength of the bridge so it is able to carry permitted loads. Currently, heavier vehicles that require a permit, such as fully loaded dump trucks, have to bypass the Gold Star and take a 17-mile detour, he said.

    Project to repair and strengthen the northbound span

    The DOT is tentatively eyeing a 2030 completion date for the nearly $300 million project to repair and strengthen the northbound span. The span was built in 1943 and underwent a rehabilitation project in the 1970s, with additional maintenance performed over the years.

    The project will have three phases. The first two will focus on strengthening the bridge so it can carry heavier loads, as well as addressing deteriorating or corroding components, Sweeney said.

    The first phase, "Phase 1A," calls for strengthening and improving the condition of the truss spans, he said.

    DOT awarded a roughly $50 million contract to Aetna Bridge Company of Warwick, R.I., for the initial phase, DOT project engineer Keith Schoppe said. The company is preparing to set up staging areas underneath the bridge in anticipation of starting the project on April 1, though the date depends on the weather.

    The initial phase, which will include winter shutdown periods, is anticipated to be completed in June 2025.

    Schoppe said DOT does not expect the construction to have a significant impact on drivers nor create traffic delays. 

    To take some weight off the bridge during repairs, the DOT expects to close a right lane and shoulder — with traffic drums and signs — while it works on the right side of the bridge and then switch to close a left lane and shoulder when it works on the left side, he explained.

    Cranes, lifts and other machinery stationed on state property underneath the bridge will be used to offload materials up to access platforms; the work will be visible from the water or underneath the bridge, but not to people driving across the bridge, he said.

    That phase will be followed by "Phase 1B," which calls for improving and strengthening the girder spans. DOT also anticipates much of that work will be performed underneath the bridge and will not have a significant impact on traffic.

    The final phase, "Phase 2," calls for replacement of the bridge deck, among other improvements. Traffic restrictions will be determined during design development.

    Though it's still too early to know details, the last two phases are expected to each take about two to three years, and DOT would aim to start them on the heels of the prior phase or possibly slightly overlapping with the prior phase, Sweeney said.

    While DOT initially had anticipated starting the project yeas ago, it said the timeline was pushed out due to the complexity of analyzing the structure and designing the project to ensure the bridge would be strengthened appropriately.

    Sweeney said the project, which will receive a combination of state and federal funding, was planned prior to the new infrastructure law and was going to move forward regardless of the bill's outcome.

    Meanwhile, DOT finished in 2018 a large-scale maintenance project on the southbound span, which was built in the 1970s and underwent a rehabilitation project in the 1990s, Schoppe said.

    The southbound span is in "fair" condition, or in a state of good repair, with the superstructure and the deck rated 5 and the foundation is rated 6, according to DOT. 

    Multiuse path feasibility study

    The DOT is studying the feasibility of adding a multi-use path to the northbound span or widening the existing path on the southbound span, Sweeney said.

    DOT found that widening the current northbound span for a multiuse path would add too much weight to the structure to be feasible. A multiuse path could only be accommodated within the existing width of the bridge, such as by narrowing lane and shoulder width and/or by removing a lane, so there are a lot of "undesirable aspects" of adding a path, he said. It would cost between $17 million and $20 million.

    Before concluding its feasibility study, the DOT decided to also study the feasibility of widening the 5-foot path on the southbound span to 8 feet. DOT is expecting that option would be more cost-effective and feasible but it won't know until the study is finished, Sweeney said.

    Once the DOT wraps up its study, it will look at the pros and cons of each option and determine which one to recommend for advancing as a project, he said.

    "They're still both on the table," Sweeney said. "We haven’t discounted the northbound yet but it's got to be looked at with the southbound before we make a decision."


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