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Amtrak to Build Electrified Bridge Over Niantic River in East Lyme

Mon September 14, 2009 - National Edition
Jay Adams

In the single biggest train project funded through the federal government’s Recovery Act, Amtrak will soon begin replacing the movable bridge over the Niantic River from East Lyme to Waterford.

Approximately $105 million has been earmarked to replace the 102-year-old drawbridge, which carries the Northeast Corridor of rail over the Niantic River in East Lyme, Conn., and the subsequent construction of a new two-track electrified railroad bridge. Amtrak officials would not confirm that figure, however, saying cost “has yet to be determined.”

Some of the money is going to replace a recently built overlook or boardwalk on the ocean, precious to residents, beach visitors, environmental agencies and its overseer, the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation.

The replacement of the aging bridge has been planned for more than 20 years, but has been repeatedly delayed due to a lack of capital funding for Amtrak. According to Amtrak officials and the White House, any further delay in replacing the bridge would result in the imposition of significant speed restrictions over the bridge, increasing passengers’ travel times and the potential for a major disruption to rail service commuters between New York and Boston.

Amtrak has estimated that the bridge replacement will result in 860 person-years of work for those directly employed in the bridge construction.

“A new, two-track, three-span railroad bridge is proposed to be constructed 58 feet south of the existing railroad alignment,” said Cliff Cole, Amtrak spokesperson. “Once the new span is constructed and operational, the existing bridge will be removed. The existing timber fender system and three existing abandoned piers that are in the Niantic River will also be removed.”

Cole described a bascule bridge as a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances the span, or “leaf,” throughout the entire upward swing in providing clearance for boat traffic. Safety during building is Amtrak’s top concern.

“As always, safety is and will be our number-one priority, but we do not anticipate any special concerns, but this question should be re-addressed once the contractor is chosen,” added Cole.

Project Goals, History

According to Amtrak officials:

• The new bridge will replace an existing, two track bascule bridge, 58 ft. (17.7 m) off-line at the same site.

• The construction of new approach fills in East Lyme and Waterford, both retained and in embankments, and a new electrified railroad.

• East Lyme’s Niantic Bay Overlook Walkway will be replaced and a portion of the beach will be replenished.

Following is the long history of the site:

• The existing bridge was built in 1907 by New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

• This replaced an older swing bridge constructed in the late 1800s.

• In1976, Amtrak acquired the bridge from Penn Central RR.

• In 1978, replacement of the bridge was recommended under Northeast Corridor Improvement Program. This was deferred because of funding limitations.

• In 1984, repairs were made.

• In 1999, Amtrak conducted a Bridge Type Feasibility Study.

• In 2000, Amtrak completed rail line electrification.

• In 2002, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sponsored an environmental assessment.

• In 2003, Amtrak initiated the final bridge design.

• Also in 2003, East Lyme constructed Niantic Bay Overlook Walkway on Crescent Beach, a potential conflict to any construction work in the future.

• In 2005, U.S. Coast Guard issued Public Notice for bridge replacement.

• In 2006, Amtrak completed final bridge replacement design.

• From 2006 to 2009: project activity.

• East Lyme Niantic Overlook Walkway disposition.

• Conn. DEP Permitting.

• Funding.

Longer, Higher, Better

In spring 2009, Amtrak advertised the project for construction of the two-track electrified railroad bridge.

The new bridge will be 373 ft. (113.4 m) long with two abutments and two river piers and a protective fender system at the channel. The new bridge will increase bridge navigation. Closed vertical clearance on the bridge will increase from 11.5 ft. (3.5 m) to 16 ft. (4.9 m). Horizontal clearance will increase from 45 ft. (13.7 m) to 100 ft. (30.5 m).

“When fully opened, the end of the bascule span will be about 175 feet above the water,” said Cole.

Navigation of boats will be maintained throughout construction, according to Amtrak, with very brief winter channel closures.

From the west approach (East Lyme), there will be track and railroad electrification construction, retaining wall construction and scour protection and the construction of a cast-in-place concrete walkway to replace the existing walkway, built in 2004.

From the east approach (Waterford), there also will be track and railroad electrification construction, along with embankment installation, scour protection and retaining walls.

Assuaging the

Public Trust

Amtrak has worked with the town of East Lyme and its Public Trust Foundation to ensure not only replacements, but also betterments to the Overlook boardwalk that has only seen six years of existence. The town also is concerned about beach erosion and the loss of tons of sand during the work.

The town has requested Amtrak to construct 2,500 ft. (762 m) of at-grade, concrete walkway behind the retaining wall in place of the elevated boardwalk and Goat Path East.

“We have agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” with the town of East Lyme, added Cole.

Amtrak also will construct a rock groin in the bay west of the mouth of the Niantic River, and nourish the beach with native and imported materials to widen the beach along where the new railroad will be located in East Lyme.

“The beach replenishment will consist of construction of a rock groin with precast concrete sheet piling core in the Niantic Bay, west of the mouth of the Niantic River, and nourishing the beach with native and imported materials to increase the width of the final beach area,” said Cole.

Cole said Amtrak would continue to work with the Town of East Lyme at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as the project “moves closer to commencement and throughout the duration of the work.”

The project was designed by a team led by Hardesty & Hanover LLP under the direction of Amtrak Deputy Chief Engineer Structures in Philadelphia, Pa.

The construction manager is the URS Corp under the direction of Amtrak Deputy Division Engineer Program Management, Midway Base, 101 Industrial Drive, Groton, Conn.

The proposed bridge replacement and associated realignment of the western railway approach to the bridge could potentially directly affect the proposed Niantic Bay Overlook (the Boardwalk). However, it is expected that ongoing coordination between the two projects will avoid any conflicts.

According to Amtrak officials, the environmental assessment for the bridge replacement project includes a commitment that the FRA and Amtrak will comply with the Connecticut DEP’s request for an in-kind or better replacement of any impacted Boardwalk components.

Government Takeover

Robert S. DeSanto, president of East Lyme Public Trust Foundation Inc., has concerns about the impact on the park during construction, particularly on the Overlook, which will now be partially shut down throughout the work and then replaced by Amtrak.

“The East Lyme Public Trust Foundation has dedicated its full efforts to the creation and ongoing development and protection of that public park that we began in 1993,” said DeSanto. “Today, we and the Town of East Lyme estimate that the park enjoys 60,000 visits a year by the public. This fact relates directly to the economic health and prospects of the town. In that light, and in the midst of the country’s deep recession, the Amtrak project becomes even more important and visible than might otherwise be the case.”

DeSanto knows that the Amtrak project, with “very significant construction impact on the park,” will last at least three years.

“In balance with those impacts, the ultimate benefits of this project, if Amtrak receives its federal and state environmental permits as now specified, can surely benefit the park in very significant ways. We are all doing our best to lobby the federal and state jurisdictions to approve those park-related permit specifications,” said DeSanto.

DeSanto said that, as a not-for-profit, The East Lyme Public Trust provided preliminary designs, permits and the land necessary to construct this 1.1-mi. (1.8 km) public park along Niantic Bay. This process began in 1993.

As time passed, however, and the Foundation received grants from federal and state governments to do the project, federal laws changed, requiring that such a project be done by a government entity, not a non-profit agency, he added. “Our non-profit was not allowed to build, although we had the land,” said DeSanto. So, the Trust donated the land to the town of East Lyme.

Negatives, Positives

“The negative impact of this project is that Amtrak requires that at least half of the boardwalk be shut down to any access during construction because the track has to be moved to the extent that it would encroach upon the existing park,” said DeSanto.

Amtrak will require the taking of about half of the boardwalk in order to move track and put in fill.

“Amtrak prepared a document — an environmental study by the FRA — which agreed that a park was going to be constructed and that they would provide a facility as good or better as the one they encountered,” he added. “They were aware that the Overlook, the boardwalk would be built (in 2003; it wasn’t built at the time of the study) and they agreed they would provide as good, or better, of a facility when they were done,” he added.

“Now, they are in the process of getting environmental permits from Corp of Engineers, the Coast Guard and State of Connecticut,” said DeSanto. “When they replace the Overlook, the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, their proposal is, as I understand it, to raise the elevation and incorporate it into their constructed railroad elevation for their new railroad.”

Such a higher elevation will substantially protect the park against storms, as the boardwalk also will be incorporated into the Amtrak structure.

“That is quite substantial,” said DeSanto, of this positive result. “Of equal importance, Amtrak is proposing to construct a groin, a stone structure of 200 feet, to protect the shipping channel, but more important to the Overlook, it will trap sand and collect that sand. This will stabilize it and produce a stable, sandy beach immediately adjacent to the Overlook, which does not now exist.

“It enhances the utility of that boardwalk beach tremendously,” said DeSanto. “With the beach there, it contributes an additional recreational and substantial area to the public. It contributes more to what the state can offer to the public.”

“The benefit is quite remarkable,” he said. “As far as I can tell, this (will be) the only park along the coast of Connecticut that’s free and open to all, with free parking, free access, no fee to go on the boardwalk.” CEG

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