State Department of Transportation officials say the $17 million dollar project to rebuild the Arrigoni bridge will begin as early as the last week in June. This is more than a month earlier than the start time previously announced for August.
State DOT officials on hand included Kenneth Fargnoli, assistant district engineer, who was chief spokesman at the meeting for the DOT. Fargnoli said a contractor has been hired and is now gearing up to begin the project. The contractor that won the bidding is the Middlesex Corporation of Middleton, Mass.
DOT officials said traffic will be very difficult in the early days of the construction, and conceded there will be gridlock, especially if accidents occur. Traffic will be limited to one in each direction and would be slow, so even a slight problem would cause longer delays.
Fargnoli says they would adjust timing and do whatever is possible to get the traffic through. Fargnoli said "after a couple of months of gridlock" people who have a choice and live further away will find alternate routes around the Arrigoni. He said given time, "it will relax."
As for the pace of work now planned, there will be two shifts 9 to 10 hours long, five days a week. Fargnoli said the the work will start at 6 a.m. and there will be a 2-3 hour break when supplies will be brought in, and then the second shift will begin.
The project engineer for the company, Tom Wood, said signs might start going up later this month. Some barriers will be put in place on the bridge in June prior to the actual start of construction.
Many on hand for the meeting expressed alarm and concern about wide spread traffic congestion during the work week and said alerts would be needed as quickly as possible each day. Jennifer Alexander, the director of Kidcity Children's Museum on Washington Street in Middletown, urged the DOT to use the latest technology to get accurate reports to drivers about delays, such as using Twitter or text alerts.
A DOT spokeswoman at the meeting announced a website is already up and running devoted to the Arrigoni project. The link is www.ct.gov/dot/arrigoni. The state will also deploy mobile electronic "smart" signs on major highways leading to the bridge.
Others, such as Portland School Superintendent Sally Doyen, urged the DOT to call local officials directly with word about special problems. Doyen says a bus must go across the bridge each morning to get students to Vinal Technical High School. Doyen says "that bus has to make it back on time" because she says that's one of the buses for our school run within Portland. She says any delays generally "will impact schools" and their scheduled openings and class times. Doyen said unlike businesses which can stagger the start time of employees, the school system has no such option. Doyen is also concerned about getting children across the bridge to Middlesex Hospital if any student has an illness or is injured.
Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh, who presided over the meeting, said it would be a good idea to have the DOT to conduct tests for alerting the public and local officals. McHugh also said if there is complete gridlock every day, he'd advocate an emergency plan such as "24 hour construction." He said if the project extended beyond the 18-month time line, it "would be a dangerous thing" for businesses downtown who might lose customers who might avoid the area for too long of a period of time.
The new start date in late June also caught police and fire officals by surprise as well, and they expressed frustration over what they called a break down in communications with the state. They are members of a Public Safety Sub-committee developing plans for emergency services during the construction.
Middletown Fire Chief Gary Ouellette, along with Middletown Deputy Police Chief William McKenna, both say they still don't have necessary clearance for ambulance service to be standing by on the Portland side. McKenna also says they haven't been promised the money for 24-7 police coverage on both sides of the Arrigoni.
Both items are strong recommendations from the safety panel, which is chaired by Portland Fire Chief Robert Shea. The committee is made up of police and fire officials from Portland and Middletown. Shea could not attend Friday's because of other duties.
McKenna says "they've been trying to explain public safety issues" to the DOT. These include getting EMS vehicles across the bridge for medical emergencies and dialysis patients. He also said in the last year, there were about 300 accidents on the bridge requiring assistance, and the average time to clear those was 40 minutes.
"That was with four lanes of traffic," he said.
McKenna also explained the state earmarked $250,000 for police assistance on the project, while public safety officials estimate the cost to be $1.2 million.
Middletown Deputy Fire Chief Robert Kronenberger says the authorities on the state level don't seem to understand the requirements for mutual aid during fires. He says in this case, it involves getting large fire trucks back and forth across the Arrigoni. With two lanes, he says it will require coordination with traffic control using police on both sides of the bridge. He said mutual aid is frequently used between Middletown and Portland.
Members of the public safety committee will take up the issues again next week.
The next Chamber of Commerce meeting focusing on the Arrigoni Bridge will be June 17.