Town Council Chairman Jeff Hogan called the Unionville truss bridge both a beloved icon and the lynchpin in the village’s increasing traffic congestion. But to find out whether the structure is safe and under what terms, if any, the state would replace it, the Town Council invited three engineers from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to speak at its Tuesday night meeting.
“From a structural standpoint the bridge is in very good shape,” said Tom Harley, chief engineer for DOT.
Harley explained that the state rates bridges on a scale of 0 to 9, based on the weakest element of a structure. The Unionville bridge was assessed at a 5, fair, during its most recent inspection 18 months ago. Inspections are done every two years, Harley said.
Currently, only the superstructure, the supporting steel above the bridge, is rate a 5 and the other elements are rated 6s and 7s. Harley said the department does expect the rating to fall slightly at its next inspection later this year.
But that doesn’t mean the bridge will be unsafe.
“That’s not that bad in our world. We wouldn’t normally be looking at this structure for replacement,” Harley said.
Instead, the department would plan an improvement project to reinforce the weaker elements of the bridge. The Unionville bridge will also have some of its connections strengthened this summer due to changing national standards following a truss bridge collapse in Minnesota.
After the improvement project, which he said might cost between $4-5 million, the bridge could be expected to remain another 20 years.
One question that has been on residents' minds is whether fire trucks can cross the bridge safely.
“Currently there are no weight restrictions on the bridge,” Harley said. “And we don’t envision that after the next inspection there would be any either. In our mind it’s not even close.”
The bridge is currently rated for 42 tons, he explained, and weight concerns over fire apparatus being when the rating drops to the teens. If that were to occur, he said, the department would strengthen the bridge to restore it to normal capacity. New bridge projects are being built to rate 36 tons, he said.
The state owns approximately 3,000 bridges, Harley said, and of those, 300 are priorities projects because they have fallen below the 4 rating and are considered structurally poor.
DOT is no longer taking on projects for issues of capacity, he said.
“It’s not based on other attributes – frankly like whether it’s too small. We are focusing a lot on preservation of our assets these days. There are a number of roadways that need more investment and we don’t have enough to do everything,” he said.
With no money for replacement of the Unionville bridge, which would likely cost $25 million, the department wouldn’t be looking to construct a third river crossing – like a bridge between New Britain Avenue and Monteith Drive either, he said.
Construction of a new bridge is estimated at $50 million. And since that bridge would connect two local roads, it would be considered a local bridge and construction would fall to the town, he said.
He also recommended the Unionville Traffic Committee’s recommendation to relocate New Britain Avenue as a possible improvement to traffic congestion.
“I applaud Farmington for coming to DOT to address this capacity issue. You’re initiating the conversation and we’re here to help and probably would fund a lot of it. If you go …the relocation of New Britain Avenue… it takes the pressure off the bridge and maybe that’s the right answer,” Harley said.
The Unionville Traffic Committee will meet with the public tonight at 7 p.m. at the Community and Senior Center to discuss a range of six options for solving traffic congestion surrounding the New Britain Avenue intersection. The decision whether to postpone the meeting due to weather will be made at 3 p.m., Charlie Keniston said, and the Everbridge notification system will be used to notify residents by phone. The meeting's snow date is March 8.