Friday, September 11, 2009

Connecticut gives tentative okay for Amtrak bridge

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The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has tentatively approved Amtrak's application to replace the Niantic River Bridge, bringing the railroad one step closer to getting all the permits it needs, according to The Day.

Amtrak submitted documents for the DEP's comprehensive application three years ago and has made several revisions since. The company wants to replace the existing moveable-span railroad bridge over the Niantic River and the existing boardwalk and enhance the beach by installing a stone terminal groin.

A public notice published in The Day Sept. 8 by the DEP stated the application would be tentatively approved. The public has 15 days to submit comments to the DEP, which will be passed along to Amtrak to be addressed. Micheal Grzywinski, a senior environmental analyst from the DEP, said if there are no lingering concerns from the public the application could be approved by the end of the month.

Next, Amtrak needs approval for its plans from the Army Corps of Engineers, which has already started looking at the proposal.

The town has been discussing the details of the replacement of the 102-year-old railroad bridge since last April, when officials identified deficiencies in Amtrak's original replacement plans.

This spring, Vice President Joe Biden announced that $105 million of the $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funding would go to Amtrak to replace the Niantic railroad bridge.

The proposed replacement - a three-span, 142-foot-long bascule-lift bridge - will be located about 58 feet south of the existing span and provide an additional 4.5 feet of vertical clearance at high tide.

A portion of the boardwalk will be torn up and the tracks leading to it will be realigned when the railroad bridge is replaced. Amtrak will replace the portion of the boardwalk it demolishes.

The 45-foot navigational channel beneath the existing span will be modified to 100 feet after the project is complete. The plans include a new 2,200-foot retaining wall adjacent to the existing bridge.

First Selectman Paul Formica said the town originally wanted Amtrak to incorporate the boardwalk into the track modification to be able to provide a walkway that could weather a 100-year storm. Previously, he said Amtrak proposed removing the boardwalk, repositioning the track and putting the walkway back in its place.

The most recent revised application from Amtrak includes plans for a 230-foot stone groin, a low sea wall, to be created perpendicular to the beach to capture the current and widen the beach naturally. The groin will be designed so people can walk and fish on it.

"The town is very pleased with the cooperation of Amtrak and the support of the Department of Environmental Protection throughout this project," Formica said. "We're looking forward to moving ahead."

Formica said he will schedule a public information session for residents sometime after the permits are approved for the bridge-replacement project. Formica wasn't sure if the bridge replacement will start this fall, which Amtrak originally had planned.

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