Bridges in New Milford under scrutiny
Published 8:28 pm, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Questions have been raised about whether New Milford's approximately 56 municipal bridges meet safety standards.
Democratic mayoral candidate Jeff Winter said Monday he has "crawled around under a few of them ... (and) I have concerns."
Calling bridge maintenance a "public safety issue," Mr. Winter said Republican Mayor Pat Murphy's eight years in office "with no repairs done on traffic-related bridges" is unacceptable.
Mayor Murphy responded Tuesday to Mr. Winter's claims by saying, "I think this is mostly demagoguery (by Mr. Winter) trying to take a measure of control through scare tactics" about the safety of bridges in town.
Mr. Winter, who is not an engineer, spoke from a layman's understanding of what he saw while doing a visual inspection of bridges on Long Mountain Road near Mud Pond, a Merryall Road bridge constructed in 1936, and others.
"The most important question for me came with the culvert at Chinmoy Lane washing out," Mr. Winter said. "I was concerned that maybe the washout was due to a lack of maintenance as well as the storm."
The rural street in the Merryall section of town was split in two when floodwaters of the West Aspetuck River tributary tore away a 30-foot culvert on March 7.
About 20 families were stranded in the Chinmoy cul-de-sac until March 12, when a temporary road connected them to West Meetinghouse Road. A temporary steel bridge on loan from the state was installed April 7.
"I don't pretend to be an engineer," Ms. Murphy said. "I rely on experts at Public Works. We hired a consultant last year who began a review of the bridges that he is completing this year. Plus, the state does bridge inspections."
Public Works Director Mike Zarba took umbrage with Mr. Winter's suggestion the Chinmoy Lane washout was because of a lack of maintenance. The culvert was installed in 1975.
"We had a severe storm," Mr. Zarba said. "The cause of the washout was debris caught in the culvert. We couldn't have predicted that would be the case."
Mr. Zarba also noted that informal bridge inspections -- as well as formal ones -- are ongoing by the two assistant engineers in town.
"Part of our charge is to make sure we are on top of bridge maintenance," Mr. Zarba said. "We don't ignore the safety aspects. We maintain the bridges as funding allows.
"The good thing is, bridges are designed and constructed to last for a long time with proper maintenance," he added. "And we provide that."
Mr. Winter said that if elected in November, "I would make a priority list within the first three to four months and any work we couldn't get federal assistance for, we would bond. Interest rates are historically low now and companies are looking for work."
Mayor Murphy noted the Bridge Fund her administration established, along with the drainage and pipes account in the Public Works budget, are already used to help pay for bridge and culvert maintenance.
A federally and locally funded bridge rehabilitation of the Aspetuck Ridge Road bridge over the West Aspetuck River is currently in the design stage.
Construction is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2014. The town's portion of the $2 million project will cost $400,000.