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ConnDOT, MTA To Review Operational Procedures of Problem-Plagued Metro-North Bridge

An immediate operational review has been ordered to critique procedures and protocols regarding the Walk Bridge which has failed twice in less than two weeks, stranding thousands of commuters.

The Walk Bridge in Norwalk. GargEngineering.com
The Walk Bridge in Norwalk. GargEngineering.com

Less than 72 hours after the Walk Bridge along the Norwalk section of the Metro-North Railroad failed, crippling the Friday evening rush hour, Connecticut and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials announced an operational review of procedures at the Walk Bridge in Norwalk in order to minimize the risk for failure in the future.  

Teams from both the MTA and Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) will participate, with the goal of delivering their findings by mid-July, according to an announcement from Gov. Dannel Malloy, Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) Commissioner James Redeker, officials from Metro-North and its parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They all met at MTA headquarters in New York Monday afternoon.

Prior to Monday's meeting, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called for the Coast Guard to immediately and substantially restrict times that the Norwalk Walk Bridge is opened. Blumenthal made the request in a letter Monday to Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2013, the Walk Bridge opened 271 times, and failed 16 of those times, according to Blumenthal.

The Monday afternoon announcement comes less than 72 hours after the 118-year-old Walk Bridge failed to close on June 6, halting eastbound train service in South Norwalk and westbound service in East Norwalk. Thousands of commuters were stranded as Metro-North scrambled to round up buses to transport them.

The June 6 failure came in the shadow of a May 29 incident in which the bridge could not be locked into place during overnight testing, causing hours of travel woes for morning rush hour commuters.

While the procedural review is conducted, state and railroad officials are pursuing federal money to finance 75 percent of the $349 million cost to replace the bridge.

“There is no doubt that we are now seeing the effects of decades of neglect when it comes to investing in our infrastructure,” Malloy said. “Over the last three and a half years, we have changed course. In fact, the five-year capital plan is 165 percent of the 2010 plan.  The Walk Bridge is a great example of past priorities.  In 2008, plans for a new bridge were dropped and no additional investment was made.  Today, we are not only providing the funding to maintain it, we're also developing a plan to replace it.  While we clearly have much more work to do, I hope that residents know my administration is committed to making investments that were put off for far too long.” 

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said his organization is supporting the state’s grant application filed in April for federal transportation funding for three commuter rail infrastructure projects on the New Haven Line, including $349 million in federal funding to replace the Walk Bridge.

“Every time this 118-year-old bridge fails to close properly, our customers suffer the consequences of decades of delay and neglect,” Prendergast said in a statement. “We are working closely with our partners in Connecticut to support their efforts to make temporary repairs to keep this bridge operating while they pursue federal funding to replace it with a modern bridge.”

And in a letter Monday to Acting Federal Transit Administration Administrator Therese W. McMillan, Connecticut's Congressional delegation called for expedited consideration of the state’s request for $349 million in federal funding to repair the bridge.

Besides calling for an operational review, Malloy also vowed to make additional resources available for temporary bridge repairs so it can remain operational in the short-term until funding for a replacement bridge can be secured.

“In the short term, every procedure, protocol and engineering solution must get the immediate attention of the most qualified team of experts to ensure reliable service for Connecticut commuters,” Malloy said. “But the long term aim is to find and fund a replacement, and I'm glad today to have the public support from the MTA on our application for federal funding.” 

Built in 1896, the Walk Bridge will be replaced with a more resilient “bascule” or vertical lift bridge that opens for marine traffic from one side with a counterweight system and will significantly enhance the safety and reliability of commuter and intercity passenger service along the Northeast corridor.


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