Amtrak held a meeting of its Moveable Bridge Advisory Board at the state Department of Environmental Protection Marine Headquarters in Old Lyme, Conn., to talk about how it is planning to minimize the impact of the projects on neighbors, rail passengers and commercial fishermen - a message that was met with skepticism by some.
The DEP approved Amtrak's application for the Niantic River Bridge in September. Next, Amtrak needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, which has already submitted a draft permit. The Coast Guard is last to issue the final permit.
Amtrak officials said they expect to award the contract for the replacement of the 102-year-old Niantic River bridge in the next few weeks. Construction could begin in late February and would last until March 2013. The railroad company wants to replace the existing moveable-span railroad bridge over the Niantic River and the existing boardwalk and protect the beach by installing a stone terminal groin, which serves as a breakwater.
Last spring, Vice President Joe Biden announced that $105 million in federal stimulus funding would be used to replace the bridge with a three-span, 142-foot-long bascule-lift bridge about 58 feet south of the existing span. The 45-foot navigational channel will be expanded to 100 feet wide. The plans include a new 2,200-foot retaining wall adjacent to the existing bridge.
People with businesses on the Niantic River stressed to Amtrak representatives that they are nervous about the condition of the current bridge and questioned whether the bridge could last three years. Last month, the bridge was stuck for a week in the down position when a chain broke and caused what Amtrak officials called a "catastrophic event." The incident created big problems for boats and charter fishermen.
An Amtrak representative said the bridge's mechanical problems were fixed recently, but because of its aging infrastructure, Amtrak is anticipating future problems.
People at the meeting called for better communication from Amtrak, some saying they haven't forgotten inconveniences they faced from Amtrak's construction crews in the past.
Amtrak notified residents living in the Black Point area Wednesday about the replacement of the Miamicock Bridge, the railroad bridge over the Pattagansett River. Work begins Dec. 17 on the $13.8-million project, which is also funded by federal stimulus money. Construction will take place mostly in the daytime, but also at night and on weekends. An access road off Old Black Point Road is being used by construction crews to move heavy equipment and crews to the railroad tracks.
In a notice to neighbors, Amtrak promised to make an attempt to limit the amount of noise generated by the construction. Officials said all trains approaching the construction work site will be required to sound their horns as they approach and pass through the area.
"We know it's going to be loud and noisy. We're bracing ourselves," said Louise Manwaring, whose backyard faces the railroad tracks and staging area for large construction equipment on Old Black Point Road. "We lived through the electrification. That was unbelievable. We'll just have to wait and see. So far they've been accommodating."