Residents, town debate one- or two-lane bridge
NEW MILFORD — Residents and the public works department are at odds over whether to keep the bridge on Cherniske Road one lane or upgrade it to two.
Replacing the bridge would cost about $600,000.
Residents argue changing it to two lanes will make it more dangerous because it’s the only check that slows down drivers right now.
They also worry it will change the rural nature of the scenic road and promote more traffic in the area, including 18-wheelers.
Director of Public Works Mike Zarba said not changing it to two lanes is a liability to the town and town engineer Dan Stanton said making it two lanes to match the rest of the road will make the bridge safer.
Zarba said the bridge was built in 1930 and probably won’t be replaced again until 2100 after this.
“This is our chance to replace it,” he said. “We can choose to leave it the same as a one-lane, functionally obsolete bridge but structurally sound. You could upgrade it to a two-lane structure that the rest of the roadway exists as.”
Because it’s a scenic road, an advisory committee will be appointed at the next council meeting. It will include two homeowners along the road, a public works department employee, a town council member, a member of the planning commission and someone with planning or economic development.
The issue will also be referred to the planning commission at the next meeting.
The current bridge has concrete abutments. There also are wooden posts and a steel railing along the road. It’s now 17.3 feet wide, several feet less than the road on either side.
“It’s a structurally deficient bridge and a functionally obsolete bridge,” Zarba said.
The public works department is recommending replacing it with a double box culvert that’s 27.5 inches wide.
“It’s a typical design that we do,” Stanton said.
It’s expected to cost $600,000 and will be paid for using town money.
The bridge was included in the town’s capital plan in 2010. A firm was selected from bids in fall 2017 and the preliminary engineering work began that winter. Since then, there have been a few meetings with residents, including one last month where the preliminary designs were presented.
Some of the residents who live on Cherniske spoke out against the project during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Tim Latta said he won’t let his children play in his side yard because of how cars drive down the road. He said three cars have already come off the road, crashing through their mail box, plantings and landing in the stone wall.
“For me, it’s a safety issue,” he said, adding the bridge is a buffer. “We like that it’s a scenic road and that 18 wheelers aren’t coming through on a regular basis.”
Adrienne Aurichio, another Cherniske Road resident, said she’s starting to see those 18 wheelers though and got stuck behind one for 15 minutes as it tried to turn around. She said the bridge keeps the trucks from racing though.
She also said she reached out to the state and officials there who said there was no reason it couldn’t remain a one-lane bridge.
Several council members wondered why the town could not replace the bridge with another one-lane style based on the residents concerns.
“You’re inherently going to spend public money to not improve what is to be a known problematic safety issue, which is the narrowing of a road at a bridge,” Zarba said.
Francis said the aesthetics also need to be considered, especially because there are similar bridges in other parts of town.
“We are a rural town and we like to stay that way,” she said. “It’s the beauty of our town.”
Councilman Tom Esposito said he understands both sides of the argument — but he said keeping the bridge one lane isn’t the way to prevent people from speeding and keeping that a quiet part of town.
“To replace a bridge as a speed control, or traffic control, makes no sense to me,” he said, adding there are enforcement methods they should use instead.