Traffic on the Arrigoni Bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction by the rush hour morning commute on Tuesday, June 28, state traffic officials told a gathering of local business leaders, emergency personnel and town officials Friday morning.
Contractors will work overnight on Monday, June 27, to get the bridge ready, painting new traffic lines on the road and installing barriers to close off two of the bridge’s four lanes, Kenneth E. Fargnoli, an engineer for the state’s Department of Transportation, told about 40 people who attended the meeting in Middletown. The meeting was called to update local officials and business leaders on the long-anticipated Arrigoni Bridge work.
The barriers will be in place by the morning commute on June 28 and the region that morning will get its first real feel for what the bridge reconstruction work will do to traffic in the communities on either side of the Arrigoni, which spans the Connecticut River between Portland and Middletown.
“The nightmare begins,” one person from the audience called out when Fargnoli announced the date of the lane closures.
Business leaders, town officials and residents are anxiously awaiting the start of the project to determine how traffic will be impacted and what that will mean to their communities.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to work our way through it,” said Larry McHugh, executive director of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the meeting.
Fargnoli said DOT officials held a “major meeting” recently with stakeholders in the project, including emergency services officials, the contractor of the bridge restoration work and local leaders, to discuss plans for getting emergency services vehicles through the area during the construction. He said local officials have developed detailed contingency plans for emergency vehicles
“I’m encouraged that things will go smoothly,” he said.
He also said the state’s “smart work zone” management plan is in place and ready for when the bridge traffic is reduced to two lanes. That management plan will include the use of automated electronic message boards along highways in the region to alert motorists of traffic delays on and near the bridge.
The message boards will be updated automatically based on information from sensors in the area around the bridge. Some officials in the audience questioned whether the DOT or the contractor can manually update the signs in the event the bridge closes altogether as a result of an accident.
DOT officials said the signs can be accessed at anytime to change their message and that workers will be on the bridge 20 hours per day.
For the first two weeks or so of construction, Fargnoli said, the crews for the contractor will be working under the bridge.
“You may not see activity on top of the bridge right away but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working.”
Susan Bransfield, first selectman of Portland, said the 18-month bridge reconstruction project will be difficult for her community and others, but is necessary.
“It’s a major project and it’s long overdue,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a little bit overwhelming.”
Mark Walter, the first selectman of East Haddam, said he’s concerned about how the bridge work will impact his community. The DOT has identified the iconic swing bridge that spans the Connecticut River between East Haddam and Haddam as a significant detour for southern-bound motorists seeking to avoid the Arrigoni. Walter said his town is already seeing an uptick in traffic on the swing bridge because some motorists already are trying to avoid the Arrigoni.
Add to that the bridge openings to accommodate boat traffic, openings that occur daily, and traffic in his community can back up quickly on the narrow, rural roads near the swing bridge.
Walter said he intends to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, which controls the bridge, to discuss the issue. He said he recently obtained a year’s worth of data about the bridge openings and that information indicates there is no set times for when the bridge opens. Instead, it indicates it does so whenever big boats need to get through the area.
Walter said there should be a schedule for when the bridge opens to boat traffic and closes to vehicles so that motorists will know when to expect delays.
Walter also said the DOT needs to make sure that larger dump trucks, especially short ones with large loads, are not allowed over the bridge. Those kinds of trucks, Walter said, would put too much stress on the 100-year-old metal bridge.