By John Schwing
WESTPORT — Monday was a day all about building bridges in Westport.
Literally. Both highway and railroad bridges.
First, officials flocked to Saugatuck to hail completion of the Interstate 95 bridge replacement project at Exit 17, over Saugatuck Avenue — part of a $104 million infrastructure upgrade that tangled traffic around town over two weekends.
Later in the day, officials announced a $23.2 million award of federal funding to replace the railroad bridge that carries four tracks over the Saugatuck River. The grant is part of $2 billion allocated by the Federal Railroad Administration for projects across Connecticut, including $465 million to replace the nearby WALK railroad bridge in Norwalk, a deteriorated swing bridge that chronically malfunctions and disrupts service on Metro-North and Amtrak.
Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes held a press conference Monday morning in Saugatuck to celebrate completion of the I-95 bridge replacement, as traffic whizzed across the newly completed span behind them. They were joined by state Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto, state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk, and state Sen. Ceci Maher and state Rep. Dominique Johnson, whose districts include Westport.
The project was completed in halves — the northbound lanes over the weekend of Oct. 21 and the southbound lanes this past weekend — finishing ahead of schedule both times. (To watch a timelapse video of the I-95 southbound bridge last weekend, click here.)
Over both weekends, however, heavy I-95 traffic was detoured onto local streets as work severely restricted — and periodically halted — flow on the highway in both directions.
Monday, however, as a group of construction workers looked on, Lamont and Himes highlighted the “accelerated” construction techniques used to finish the bridge replacement, “minimizing traffic disruptions to the greatest extent possible so that this necessary safety improvement could be completed,” according to the governor’s remarks as reported in a press release.
“Infrastructure upgrades like this are critical to keeping our transportation system moving safely,” Lamont added. “I appreciate and thank the dedicated crews from the [state Department of Transportation] for their work completing this project quickly and efficiently.”
Ninety percent of the project funding, Himes said in the press statement, or “more than $90 million, came from the federal government. Not even two years after the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law, we are already seeing shovels in the ground and much-needed infrastructure improvements in our neighborhoods accomplished.”
Later in the day, Lamont and Himes also announced funding for railroad infrastructure projects, which include the Saugatuck railroad bridge.
The project, officials said, is designed to improve safety and allow higher maximum speeds for trains traveling through the area..
Himes, in a statement, said he was “elated” about the total award of more than $488 million in federal funds to replace both the Saugatuck and WALK spans in his 4th Congressional District.
“I spend much of my time as a representative thinking about how to modernize the rail systems and bridges in our community, but the best part about receiving a grant like this is knowing that eventually my constituents won’t have to think about infrastructure at all,” the congressman said in the press release.