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

The federal government Wednesday awarded Connecticut a competitive grant of $161 million toward replacement of the 118-year-old Walk Bridge in Norwalk, a swing bridge whose failure in the open position halted Metro-North and Amtrak traffic twice this year on one of the busiest rail corridors in the U.S.

In an era of increased competition for dwindling transit dollars, the grant is a significant win for the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, but it still is less than half the $349 million sought by the state to cover 75 percent of a project estimated to cost more than $465 million.

Connecticut competed with a dozen states and even Metro-North’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for a major share of a $3 billion Federal Transit Administration fund created by Congress in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief bill.

In addition to the $161 million, the transit administration also awarded $9 million to upgrade the power system at the New Haven rail yard, where the state’s Metro-North rail fleet is maintained.

“Connecticut was among many East Coast states applying for these very competitive grants to ‘harden’ transportation infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and I am pleased that we succeeded,” Malloy said in a statement. “This funding is great news for our economy and for our residents, who rely on this system every day.”

The Norwalk bridge is one of four movable bridges on the New Haven line, all more than 109 years old and in need of major rehabilitation or replacement.

By so closely following other Metro-North service interruptions, the malfunctioning bridge in Norwalk elevated the issue of deferred infrastructure work into an election-year issue in Connecticut. Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the threat to the busy rail corridor also helped make the case for funding.

“It was quite compelling, to be honest,” Redeker said.

The grant will accelerate a project that was slated for design in 2017 and completion in 2023. Redeker said he now expected a completed design in 2016, with completion as soon as 2020.

The Walk bridge, one of only two remaining swing bridges in the Northeast rail corridor, would be replaced with a bascule bridge, essentially a draw bridge that hinges on one side and is raised with the assistance of counterweights. Redeker said the bridge would carry four sets of tracks on two side-by-side bridge segments, allowing one side of the bridge to function while the other is being serviced.

Replacing the bridge while maintaining rail traffic demands complex engineering.

“It’s a most complex, most difficult location,” he said. “It’s a challenge for us.”

In June, Malloy announced the establishment of a short-term, crash effort to devise a way to improve the mechanical reliability of the Walk Bridge. That resulted in a series of modifications that can be made over the next nine months on the devices that lift the rails and re-seat them.

The Cos Cob Bridge over the Mianus River, the Saugatuck River Bridge, and the Devon Bridge over the Housatonic are the other movable bridges on the New Haven line. Two were built in 1904, one in 1905.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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