The existing Walk Bridge, a rail swing bridge over the Norwalk River, is shown in the open position. The Walk Bridge has gotten stuck in the open position, disrupting rail traffic in the Northeast corridor. NEC Commission
The swing bridge shown in the open position over the Norwalk River
The swing bridge shown in the open position over the Norwalk River NEC Commission

Washington – The Federal Railroad Administration is sending a team of inspectors to Connecticut next week to assess the conditions of all of the state’s five movable railroad bridges, including the Norwalk River’s Walk Bridge, whose recent malfunctions have snarled commuter traffic.

FRA spokesman Michael England said a team of agency inspectors would stay in Connecticut for about a month so they could fully inspect the aging structures, but he said he “couldn’t say” if the deployment was prompted by the problems of the Walk Bridge, which was stuck in an open position twice in the past month.

“We do sweeps like this from time to time,” England said.

The FRA last inspected the Walk Bridge in 2011, but the state has inspected it twice last year.

The 118-year old Walk Bridge is crossed by 140 trains that run daily between New Haven and New York City, most of them AMTRAK and Metro-North commuter trains.

One of the state’s two swing bridges, the Walk Bridge was awarded historic status. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and was even then considered to be in poor operating shape.

Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell placed the bridge on the state’s list of priority projects so work could begin on a plan to replace it. But she removed the Walk Bridge from the list in 2008 because the state would have had to pick up 20 percent of the cost of work on the bridge and money was tight. Federal money would have paid for the rest of the cost of replacing the bridge.

Gov. Dannel Malloy in March asked the federal government to help replace the bridge using money from a $3 billion FRA fund created by Congress in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief bill. The state is seeking $349 million, but there is stiff competition for the money – mainly from New York and New Jersey. The FRA says it’s received 64 applications totaling more than $6 billion for what’s become known as Sandy resiliency money. New York state alone has applied for $4.9 billion. About $2.9 billion was for Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects.

In its application for the resiliency funds, the Malloy administration wrote the Walk Bridge “has far exceeded its fatigue life, even minor damage sustained as a result of a climate hazard could result in a total loss of the structure.”

But even if the federal government awards Connecticut the money, the state would have to come up with its share, about $116 million. And the timeline in the state’s proposal sets the start of construction in 2018, with the work completed in 2024.

Meanwhile, others believed a a short term solution was needed.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked the Coast Guard to keep the bridge closed to marine traffic. It complied with the request last week.

Calling the Walk Bridge “inoperable,” the Coast Guard said it would not raise the bridge so that short-term repairs could be completed in the next 30 days.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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