April will mark the end of a much-needed four-year highway project; the widening of U.S. 7 from Wolfpit Road to Olmstead Hill Road in the town of Wilton.
Poet T.S. Eliot said that April was the cruelest month, but for members of the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), April will mark the satisfying end of a much-needed and much-appreciated four-year highway project.
In September 2006, ConnDOT Commissioner Ralph J. Carpenter announced the start of the reconstruction and widening of U.S. Route 7 from Wolfpit Road to Olmstead Hill Road in the town of Wilton.
The construction kicked off a series of major highway capitol projects estimated at a total cost of $140 million for the reconstruction and widening of U.S. Route 7 from the cities of Danbury to Norwalk, Conn.
The contract was awarded on Aug. 11, 2006, to Tilcon Connecticut Inc. of New Britain, Conn., at a contract value of $35,030,663. It was originally scheduled for completion in December 2009, but some right-of-way issues put things back four months to April. Final estimates of the highway work fall in the $42 million range, with some 80 percent of that money being federal and 20 percent state funded.
The First Work
Work began on Danbury Road (U.S. 7, 7/33/106) and on Route 33, Ridgefield Road, in 2006.
Utility relocations that had been ongoing for three years prior continued to supplement and facilitate the construction activities for the widening and reconstruction of Route 7.
Dewberry Goodkind of New Haven, Conn., designed the new highway work and Sept. 13, 2006, saw a promising start in work designed to improve overall traffic operations and safety, according to ConnDOT.
Tilcon Connecticut Inc. soon brought in a slew of sub-contractors for the four-year span of work projects (see sidebar for a complete list), which included the reconstruction and widening of 3 mi. (4.8 km) of Route 7 from Wolfpit Road to Olmstead Hill Road, by:
• Widening the highway from two lanes to four lanes
• Providing left turn lanes at key intersections
• Improvements to two intersecting state roads and 17 local roads
• Installing 11 new traffic signals and replacing five existing signals
• Plantings and wetland creation area
Four bridges also were rehabilitated, the center of the work, including:
• Bridge No. 941 — Route 33 over Metro-North and the Norwalk River
• Bridge No. 5260 — Route 7 over Metro-North Railroad
• Bridge No. 532 — Route 7 over the Norwalk River
• Bridge No. 5477 — Route 7 over the Goetzen Brook
In addition, five retaining walls were erected:
• Wall 101 South, replacing the existing Baptist Church retaining wall
• Wall No. 102, constructing a retaining wall at the intersection of Route 7/33
• Wall No. 103, a wall constructed at Station Access Road and Commonfund Drive
• Wall No. 104, a retaining wall built at Route 7 and the Perry Green property
• Wall No. 101 North, a new wall put up in front of property at 463 Danbury Road
Stage by Stage
The work, of course, per most DOT projects, was done in stages.
The first stage included:
• Drainage outlets construction
• Pavement widening and stage construction, allowing the new roadway and other structures to be construction in three main stages.
• Final pavement courses, pavement markings, traffic signals and signing, to complete the project this March/April. The final completion date is scheduled for April 23, 2010.
When the work is done, according to ConnDOT, some 350,000 lbs. (158,757 kg) of structural steel will have been deployed and some 4,600 cu. yds. (3,516 cu m) of concrete poured. Some 70,000 tons (63,502 mt) of asphalt will be used for the roadways and bridges with 450,000 lbs. (204,116 kg) of rebar. Some 100,000 cu. yds. (76,455 cu m) of earth and raw materials will have been removed from the 3 mi. site.
According to several ConnDOT officials, including District Engineer Mark D. Rolfe, “An average of 25 men per shift, with the work being done in one shift,” worked primarily during the day, with occasional night work that was required to establish stage construction work zones, paving and “other miscellaneous work that required work to be done in the existing roadway.”
Commuters in the Norwalk area were used to seeing delays over the road since 2006. According to Rolfe and his fellow engineers, “The existing road was two lanes wide, with sporadic signalization and heavy traffic volume during rush hours, resulting in considerable delays, due to volume.”
The work did not proceed without some conflicts, according to ConnDOT. One ongoing conflict is between Northeast Utilities 345 KV transmission line (which runs parallel with Route 7 for the length of the project) and proposed drainage and utility installations on the project.
ConnDOT officials said this issue is being addressed, with the full impact to be determined. Impacts include:
• Major drainage impact, requiring five major drainage revisions and numerous field revisions, to resolve the conflicts.
• Utility relocations
• The associated costs are fully paid with Northeast Utilities funds.
Another conflict included the AT&T utility relocation on Bridge No. 532. This issue involved the relocation of the existing AT&T duct bank, in lieu of removal and replacement, as originally proposed. This revision, which is complete as of this writing according to officials, was approved to save approximately nine months of splicing time and the associated costs to the department.
Further issues included an AT&T proposed pole relocation in front of No. 187 Danbury Road, which was in direct conflict with the 345 KV Transmission line. As a result, the pole had to be relocated into the private property. AT&T and the property owner had difficulty reaching an agreement for an easement for more than a year, according to DOT.
“However, Mr. Bill Brennan, First Selectman of Wilton, through his good office, was able to persuade the property owner to resolve the easement agreement with AT&T and thereby mitigated further delays to the project,” said the project engineer.
The contractor had to adjust the price for furnishing and installing 54-in. (137 cm) diameter drilled shafts. These were due to a revised definition of competent rock, meaning that an increase in the depth of core borings and drilled shaft excavation were required to encounter competent rock. “The contractor’s claim of a significant change in the character of the work was determined to be valid and unit price adjustments on the drilled shafts and integrity testing items was determined to be necessary,” said ConnDOT in a statement.
A new retaining wall is required at Route 7, to address the fact that rock, anticipated in the original design, is not present at this location. To resolve this matter, a cast-in-place concrete retaining wall is being designed. Bracing the existing poles to build the wall was resolved through the use of 11-ft. (3.3 m) deep adjacent temporary bracing poles.
Another interesting aspect of the project has been labeled the “Our Lady of Fatima Drainage Outlet.” According to ConnDOT, this was identified as a critical drainage outlet that had to be completed in Phase A, prior to starting the pre-stage construction work at the south end of the project.
Difficulties were encountered due to the stipulated agreement between the state and Our Lady of Fatima Church that no construction would take place between Sept. 1 and May 1 of each year. The District and ConnDOT Right Of Way worked vigorously through the Attorney General’s office to modify the stipulated agreement. Hence the drainage work was successfully completed in the Spring of 2007, thereby mitigating significant project delays.
“This project, due to the nature and extent of the work, caused considerable disruption to the daily routines of residents, property owners and businesses along the roadway,” said Rolfe. “By disseminating timely information regarding the schedule of the work, and with the cooperation and commitment from all project stakeholders, including the department, the contractor, the town of Wilton, the designer, the consultant inspector and the major utilities, the project has received positive responses from all quarters and remains on schedule.”
Rick Birge, manager of Construction of Tilcon, added “Through cooperation with all involved parties, the project went well.”