They couldn't have planned a better backdrop. As thick streams of water ran down the street during Friday's rainstorm, state and city officials stood on the Columbus Avenue Bridge to announce that Meriden will be getting $1.1 million to fix the bridge that Mayor Michael Rohde called "the major pinchpoint in flooding our downtown."
The State Bond Commission Friday morning for a project to build an auxiliary culvert at the bridge on Columbus Avenue near Hanover Street that is over Harbor Brook. It also OK'd an unrelated $122,375 to update technology at Wilcox Technical High School.
"This is a much-needed project. It will help the city deal with one of its major flood problem areas," state House Speaker Chris Donovan (D-Meriden) said Friday of the proposed Columbus Avenue Bridge work. (Click on the video for more of the press conference.)
The culverts, or openings under the bridge, are too small and make the structure a chokepoint for the flow of Harbor Brook during major rainstorms, according to officials. In major storms, water can back up over the bridge and all the way through the city's downtown. Water levels apparently reached chest-high on top of the bridge during the 1996 flood that caused about $14 million in damages to the city – just four years after a 1992 flood caused $16 million in damages to Meriden, officials said.
The added culvert will give more space for water to flow through, said City Manager Lawrence Kendzior. The project will also create an area next to the brook for the city's Linear Trail, which will provide another space for overflow water when needed. The spot is still a few miles away from the current Linear Trail, which stretches 1.3 miles along the Quinnipiac River in South Meriden, but the city has plans to eventually extend it through the area and downtown.
Officials say the bridge project, along with its ongoing, multi-phase flood control plans, will lay the groundwork for development in Meriden's beleaguered downtown.
"If we're going to attract businesses, we're going to have to get (flooding) under control," said state Rep. Catherine Abercrombie (D - Meriden, Berlin).
Bidding on the project will likely go out over the winter or in early spring, Kendzior said Friday. , he said work on the project will likely start next year.
The Wilcox funding will go to purchasing 75 classroom computers, 12 whiteboards, two network servers, five network printers, a color printer and a backup power supply for the school according to Donovan, who said he penned the request after touring the school.
"Our technical schools...prepare young people for the workforce, and nothing is more important for Connecticut at this time," Donovan said.