(Updated 4:35 p.m.) U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed outrage over the malfunctioning 118-year-old Walk Bridge in Norwalk that delayed commuters at least twice in the past two weeks.
At a press conference Monday morning in Hartford, Blumenthal said every time the bridge gets stuck it disrupts train travel an average of 90-minutes. However, in the two most recent incidents it remained stuck for three hours and five hours respectively. The bridge was built in 1896.
In 2013, the bridge failed 16 times, which is about a 6 percent fail rate. The bridge was opened 271 times that year, according to Blumenthal.
“One way or another, this 118-year-old bridge is susceptible to these malfunctions, in the short-term there need to be repairs and better maintenance,” Blumenthal said.
To that end he’s hoping the federal government releases $349 million in Sandy resiliency funds to the state, which will be matched by $116 million in state funds to help repair the bridge. There are 12 states and the District of Columbia vying for the federal funds, which will be awarded at some point in the fall.
In the meantime, Blumenthal is calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to reduce and restrict the times that the Walk Bridge in Norwalk is opened. Blumenthal said the U.S. Coast Guard has the ability to keep the bridge closed and it’s unclear at the moment what commercial marine traffic uses the bridge.
He said he’s asked the mayor of Norwalk to inform him exactly what commercial interests may be involved in requesting the opening of the bridge.
The bridge has four tracks and spans 564 feet across the Norwalk River. According to Department of Transportation officials, the bridge has a swing span of 200-feet and averages approximately 20-30 openings per month, primarily for tall barges.
“Loss of the bridge would sever the sole direct rail link from Boston to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.,” a DOT fact sheet on the bridge states. “Partial service would be restored as expeditiously as possible through significant investment of state and regional resources but even one month without a Norwalk River rail crossing would severely disrupt the commutes of hundreds of thousands of people relying on MNR and Amtrak service in the corridor daily and yield devastating economic impacts.”
The replacement of the bridge, if the state is able to get the federal funds, would start in 2018 and take six years to complete.
Malloy is expected to meet with Metro-North officials Monday afternoon to discuss the situation. Blumenthal, who was headed back to Washington, will attend that meeting by telephone.
On Friday, Malloy called for a “crisis summit” with Metro-North and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials.
“This is now the second major failure in two weeks, leaving thousands of passengers stranded and causing unacceptable delays,” Malloy said in a statement. “Let me be clear, this is outrageous.”
But the rail, which is owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, is used by Metro-North Rail, Amtrak, and freight companies.
Asked who is to blame for not investing in the infrastructure to ensure the bridge didn’t malfunction, Blumenthal declined to cast blame on either the state or the federal government.
“Very bluntly, I’m not about blaming anyone right now,” Blumenthal said. “I’m about fixing this problem and the way to fix it is short-term.”
In the long-term, he said he wants to get the money to replace the bridge as soon as possible.
In a letter, Blumenthal and the rest of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, urged the Federal Transit Administration to release the funding as soon as possible.
Sen. John McKinney, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, said Malloy has known about this infrastructure project since he’s been in office.
“We shouldn’t wait for the federal government. Connecticut owns the bridge. We should act,” McKinney said.
Malloy said Monday afternoon that’s exactly what his administration is doing.
“In 2008, plans for a new bridge were dropped and no additional investment was made,” Malloy said. “Today, we are not only providing the funding to maintain it, we’re also developing a plan to replace it.”
Malloy announced Monday that teams from both the MTA and the state will identify the issues and funding sources by mid-July.
Click here to read NancyonNorwalk’s story about what the bridge failure did to commuters.