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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

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

"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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