Connecticut Road, Rail, Bridge Infrastructure Continues to Earn Scrutiny

Often described as “an accident waiting to happen,” the condition of Connecticut’s road, rail and bridge infrastructure continues to earn scrutiny from policy makers and the public.  In the transportation-congested Northeast corridor, the intertwining highway and rail bridges, often stacked above and below one another or alongside each other, underscore the potential consequences of infrastructure failure.  The state legislature is poised this week to devote a portion of the state sales tax in the coming years to the start of a long-term transportation infrastructure revitalization plan proposed by Gov. Malloy. “Improving safety features on Connecticut’s roads and highways would likely result in a decrease in the state’s traffic fatalities and serious crashes,” a report in December 2014 by TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches transportation issues, pointed out.  “It is estimated that roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of all fatal and serious traffic crashes.”underbridge

The report noted that “highways are vitally important to continued economic development in Connecticut, particularly to the state’s tourism, farming, agriculture, manufacturing, and insurance industries. As the economy expands, creating more jobs and increasing consumer confidence, the demand for consumer and business products grows. In turn, manufacturers ship greater quantities of goods to market to meet this demand, a process that adds to truck traffic on the state’s highways and major arterial roads.”

Amtrak's ridership through the Northeast corridor, including Connecticut, is up 50 percent since 1998, boosted by the introduction of high-speed trains.  A record 11.6 million riders rode Amtrak in the corridor in fiscal year 2014, the Associated Press recently reported.  Commuter railroads that rely heavily on the rail corridor, like the Metro-North Railroad serving New York and Connecticut, also have been breaking ridership records.

That same report, however, indicated that half of the route's 1,000 bridges are around a century old. Not all are at the end of their useful lives, but at current funding levels, it would take 300 years to replace all of them, according to the Northeast Corridor Commission of transportation officials, the AP reported.

“The terrible tragedy in Philadelphia is only the most recent reminder of the tremendous backlog of basic repairs and safety upgrades we have accumulated as the result of years of underinvestment in this critical asset,’’ U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said recently.  He’s proposing that $555.8 million in the president’s budget for Northeast Corridor rail improvements to be directed at rail-safety projects only.  Murphy calls the $555.8 million a “drop in the bucket,’’ noting that the Northeast Corridor repair backlog currently stands at $21.1 billion.

railAs one example, state officials are working on a plan to replace a swinging bridge over the Norwalk River, built in 1896.  "As a piece of engineering, it's just amazing," John Bernick, assistant rail administrator for the state Department of Transportation told the AP. "But, it's certainly reached its retirement age.” The computer that operates the bridge is from the 1980’s, and replacing the bridge could cost as much as $650 million.

Last October state officials announced a plan, using state and federal funds, for the design and replacement of that century-old Walk Bridge, which malfunctioned in two separate incidents within a two week period last summer. The project is be funded with 34 percent state funds and 66 percent federal funds. Officials anticipate the design for the replacement bridge, which began last July, to be complete by 2016.  With a contract bid package complete by late 2016, construction of the replacement bridge could begin in 2017 with a completion date in 2020.

A report in 2010 from the Federal Highway Administration found that out of 4,186 bridges in Connecticut, 378 bridges were considered structurally deficient and 1,028 bridges were considered functionally obsolete.  In 2008, a report by TRIP, indicated that the average age of bridges in Connecticut was 40 years, and that 46 percent of the state’s bridges were built prior to 1960.  The organization’s updated report, in December 2014, found that 35 percent of Connecticut bridges are in need of repair, improvement or replacement. Ten percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 25 percent are functionally obsolete.

Annually, $143 billion in goods are shipped from sites in Connecticut and another $119 billion in goods are shipped to sites in Connecticut, mostly by truck, the 2014 TRIP report indicated.  Forty-one percent of Connecticut’s major locally and state-maintained roads and highways have pavements in poor condition, while an additional 41 percent of the state’s major roads are rated in mediocre or fair condition and the remaining 18 percent are rated in in good condition.Congestion

In addition, Connecticut has more than 3,400 bridges and culverts on municipally maintained roads, according to the state Department of Transportation. Construction and maintenance of these expensive structures is the responsibility of the cities and towns who own them.  The state legislature, which is scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday, is considering a proposal that would increase the available funds under the State Local Bridge Program to assist local municipalities for FY 2016 applications to $15 million and would add $10 million for FY 2017 applications.

The TRIP report concluded that “making needed improvements to Connecticut’s roads, highways and bridges could provide a significant boost to the state’s economy by creating jobs in the short term and stimulating long-term economic growth as a result of enhanced mobility and access,” warning that “without a substantial boost in federal, state and local highway funding, numerous projects…will not be able to proceed, hampering the state’s ability to improve the condition of its transportation system and to enhance economic development opportunities in the state.”



New Haven Leads the Way in Major Transportation Infrastructure Projects Underway

There’s a decidedly New Haven bend to the state’s largest ongoing transportation infrastructure projects.  A listing of the largest Department of Transportation (DOT) projects indicates that of the top 20 projects, eight of them are in New Haven, including four of the top six. The largest project is the construction of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, better known ats the Q-bridge, which carries I-95 over the Quinnipiac River.  The $417 million project began in 2009 and is slated for completion in 2015.

The second largest project is less than a stPearl Harbor Memorial Bridge Projectone’s throw away.  The reconstruction of the I-95/I-91/Route34 interchange in New Haven began in 2011 and is estimated to be completed in 2016, at a cost of $359.9 million.

Ranked as the third largest DOT infrastructure project now underway is the reconstruction of the Moses Wheeler Bridge, which brings I-95 over the Housatonic River in Stratford.

It’s back to New Haven for the fourth largest ongoing project, the facilities improvements to the New Haven Rail Yard, including construction of a component changeout shop.  The estimated cost is $160.9 million, with the project due to be completed next April.

The Hartford-New Britain area of central Connecticut has the fifth largest project, the construction of the CTfastrack bus corridor.  The I-95 West River Bridge replacement in New Haven is number six, followed by catenary replacement in Bridgeport (number 7) and New Haven (number 8).catenary

There are approximately 200 track miles of overhead catenary lines powering trains in Connecticut.  Officials have described the job of replacement those lines “while still operating the nation’s busiest commuter rail services, as a “monumental task.”  The original lines were put in place at the turn of the century – the 20th century – more than 100 years ago.

The full list of the top 20 projects currently underway in Connecticut was compiled by Hartford Business Journal with data provided by the state Department of Transportation.

Aging Bridges, Considerable Disrepair Are Significant Challenge in CT, Nationwide

It was in 1983 that three people died in Connecticut when a section of the Mianus River Bridge on Interstate-95 collapsed into the water below, and unsuspecting drivers drove off the end of the road in the middle of the Greenwich night. That tragedy launched a multi-million dollar infrastructure investment program in Connecticut, but now, three decades later, the age and condition of the state’s bridges is front and center again, as a poorly functioning, 118-year-old railroad bridge has disrupted commuter service on the nation’s busiest rail corridor by repeatedly refusing to close. Mianus River Bridge I95

The extent of the nation’s bridge-related challenge is daunting, and yet represents only a portion of the overall infrastructure needs. Less than a year ago, a study released by the American Society of Civil Engineers determined that:

  • over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions
  • one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient,
  • the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years.

The report also pointed out that “it is of growing concern that the bridges in our nation’s metropolitan areas, which are an indispensable link for both millions of commuters and freight on a daily basis, are decaying more rapidly than our rural bridges.”

bridgesCTOnce every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (Report Card). The most recent report was issued in 2013.

Connecticut, according to the data, has 406 of the state’s 4,208 bridges classified as structurally deficient and another 1,070 are considered to be functionally obsolete. The report also noted that Connecticut has 21,407 public road miles, and 73 percent of the state’s major roads are considered to be in poor or mediocre condition.

By county, the 406 structurally deficient bridges were: 106 in Fairfield County, 71 in Hartford County, 58 in New Haven County, 45 in New London County and Litchfield County, 27 in Middlesex County, 24 in Windham County and 14 in Tolland County. In addition, the report indicated that Connecticut had 1,023 functionally obsolete bridges in the state.

Structurally deficient bridges “require significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. These bridges, according to the report, “must be inspected at least every year since critical load-carrying elements were found to be in poor condition due to deterioration or damage.” Functionally obsolete bridges are those that “no longer meet the current standards that are used today. Examples are narrow lanes or low load-carrying capacity.” fairfield bridges

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, an investment of $20.5 billion annually would be needed, according to the report, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The report stated that “the challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States.”

The report indicated that 22 states have a higher percentage of structurally deficient bridges than the national average, while five states have more than 20% of their bridges defined as structurally deficient. Pennsylvania tops the list with 24.4%, while Iowa and Oklahoma are not far behind, each having just over 21% of their bridges classified as structurally deficient.

Overall, the nation’s grade for the condition of its bridges was C+, which was described as “mediocre” and in need of attention. “Some elements exhibit significant deficiencies in conditions and functionality, with increasing vulnerability to risk.” The 32-member Advisory Committee did not include any engineers from Connecticut, but did include two from Massachusetts and one from Maine, among the New England states.

Time magazine reported this week that the I-95 bridge over Delaware’s Christina River was quickly closed to all traffic on May 29, after “an engineer who happened to be working nearby noticed two of the span’s support pillars tilting.“ Officials hope to have the structure stabilized and reopened by Labor Day. The bridge had routinely handled about 90,000 vehicles per day.

The I-35W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour on August 1, 2007, plunging dozens of cars and their occupants into the river, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The bridge was Minnesota's fifth busiest, carrying 140,000 vehicles daily.asce-logo

The American Society of Civil Engineers, founded in 1852, is the country’s oldest national civil engineering organization. It represents more than 140,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry, and academia who are dedicated to advancing the science and profession of civil engineering. The first Report Card for America’s Infrastructure was issued in 1988.