By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - Go ahead, hold your breath. We’re almost there.
After almost 12 years, the blessèd Boombridge Road bridge is coming back.
After 12 years of going down Route 2 and over the Pawcatuck River, usually through White Rock, to get into Westerly to buy a couple of bolts at McQuade’s Hardware, finally the drivers who favored the age-old bridge, the bridge that once allowed the flow of flint corn from Westerly and Charlestown to Clark’s Falls for milling, will see the bridge open again.
But, my God, it’s been a struggle to get there.
(First of all, let’s call it by its rightful name. It’s the Boom Bridge. It doesn’t need to be called the Boombridge Road bridge. The road is superfluous, and you already said bridge. Boom Bridge.)
On December 17, Christmas came early to those of us who miss the Boom Bridge every day. A contract was awarded to Brunalli Construction of Southington, Conn.
The contracted cost of the project is $1,974,629, and can start as soon as April 1. That will pay Brunalli to remove everything there and replace it with a composite cast-in-place reinforced concrete deck on a steel plate girder superstructure. That will rest on reinforced concrete integral abutments founded on rock-bearing steel piles. The length is 122 feet. Curb to curb, the width will be 24 feet. That’s what the engineers are saying, anyway.
To finish up, they will reconstruct the bridge approaches on both the Connecticut and Rhode Island sides.
Brunalli has until November 20 this year to complete their work or start paying daily $1,500 fines.
It was the heavy hand of First Selectman Mike Urgo, pressing Send, that kept the project alive and moving. He emailed the state and others “daily” to the fight the inertia that has bedeviled the bridge. Without his perseverance, the federal funding was in jeopardy of disappearing.
Kevin J. Nursick, DOT communications officer, explained that Connecticut had taken the lead in the project.
From DOT’s point of view, at “about $2 million,” Boom Bridge is a tiny project. He called it “ a rinky-dink bridge that carries virtually no traffic.” The new bridge has been engineered so it will span state to state without the six pillars in the middle of the river the current bridge sits on, meaning much less wear on the bridge structure from river scouring.
“Finally,” Nusick said, “we’ll be able to put this behind us for another 50 years.”
It’s those two states and that nasty conceptual line in the middle of the river that have made this project such a nuisance. It’s not the first time the Pawcatuck River caused jurisdictional mayhem. The last time the White Rock bridge was rebuilt, between Westerly and upper Pawcatuck, it took about the same amount of time.
The current iteration of the Boom Bridge was built 52 years ago, in 1968. It has been getting inspected every year, but by 1995, it’s ratings started to slide and it only got a “fair” grade.
On May 9, 2001, the Conn. Bureau of Engineering and Highway Operations, sent North Stonington a letter notifying the town the bridge was in “poor” condition and was “in need of structural engineering to strengthen its steel stringers.”
By March two years later, construction was slated to start in 2006. But the project struggled from the complexities of the facts - the bridge, across a river that is a state border, is “privately owned” by the towns of Westerly and North Stonington. So no state has any jurisdiction or, technically, any responsibility. Getting the two towns, the two states, and the federal government (Uncle Sam having the deepest pockets) on the same page or even in the same room was a huge challenge.
For years, North Stonington’s then-First Selectman, Nick Mullane, sent reams of letters to get the job coordinated, but by November of 2006, yet another bridge inspection found pieces of the steel girders were missing.
Also in 2006, housing prices collapsed and by March of 2008, the world was in recession. Business as usual halted. State and federal funding for a small private bridge repair became unlikely.
An inspection in July 2008 found the bridge no longer safe for travel and on July 15th, Mullane announced the bridge would close on July 18th.
Cement Jersey barriers were put up at both ends. But, since the bridge had always been used to get cattle across to pastures on both sides of the river, the barriers were constantly being moved aside. Drivers would usually find the bridge open, thanks to the Beriah Lewis farm’s tractors. (Or maybe their prize-winning oxen did the deed.)
North Stonington’s resident state troopers, however, started ticketing drivers coming across into Connecticut. Finally, the double Jersey rubble-filled barrier that stands there now was put in place in July 2012, leaving enough room for bovine and human pedestrians to get through.
The total cost of the bridge project is $2,665,750. Beside the contract amount, there is a 10% contingency of $197,463 and a 25% item called “incidentals” for $493,658.
Who pays for it?
All along, the formula was supposed to be 40% Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT), 40% Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), 10% Town of North Stonington, and 10% Town of Westerly. The funds from the states are actually federal dollars administered by the states.
But the final allocations are this: $1,066,300 CTDOT (40%), $600,000 RIDOT (22.5%), $266,575 North Stonington (10%), and $732,875 Westerly (27.5%).
Between 2009 and 2016, the town spent $298,576 on the project, mostly on engineering. The state and/or federal government covered $238,660 of that, meaning the town has spent $59,916 before this contract.
The engineering was done by TranSystems of Connecticut.
So, after thousands of hours of work, thousands of documents, scores of meetings, the historic Boom Bridge will finally make its comeback.
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