Derby, Shelton residents updated on bridge project

From on high, the century-old Derby-Shelton bridge spanning the Housatonic River is downright majestic and evokes comparisons to more famous spans in the United States and Europe.

But the bridge, which made its debut in 1918, is now slated for a makeover — and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments recently held a public hearing to update people who live and work in the two cities.

The hearing took place on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Derby City Hall and drew about two-dozen residents of Shelton, Derby and other parts of the Naugatuck River Valley. New Haven-based AECOM Technical Services, Inc., is the engineering firm for the project.

The project aims to reinforce certain bridge structures while adding features, such as pedestrian walkways and bike lanes, landscaping and new lighting. The project will retain the span’s graceful arched structure. This is the second public hearing; the first hearing in April 2018 solicited residents’ input and suggestions about proposed bridge enhancements.

“The bridge itself is structurally in good shape,” said NVCOG Assistant Director Mark Nielsen. “But the pavement has a lot of cracks and the parapet walls of the bridge have a lot of exposed rebar.”

The project calls for the rehabilitation of the bridge’s deck (the surface that carries vehicles, bikes and pedestrians). This will include replacing the bituminous pavement surface and the underlying concrete deck.

The project will also involve a narrowing of vehicle lanes to allow more room for bikes and pedestrians; and rebuilding the bridge parapets. For the unfamiliar, “parapets” are a bridge’s sidewalls, those necessary structures that keep vehicles and people from falling off the side.

The original redesign called for separate, paved bike paths going in both directions. Based on input from the first public hearing, AECOM instead designed bike lanes adjacent to the roadway. The earlier version required a more significant narrowing of the bridge’s traffic lanes.

“There was concern (at the April meeting) that this would worsen traffic congestion on the bridge,” Nielsen said. “Currently, there are wide travel lanes in both directions and, on the westbound side, people tend to use the additional space as an extra travel lane. They aren’t supposed to, but they do.”

Under the current plan, the revamped bridge will have three 11-foot vehicle lanes: one in the westbound direction (toward Shelton) and two eastbound (toward Derby). The shoulders, which are currently quite wide, will be narrowed to enable a larger pedestrian space on the south side of the bridge as well as bidirectional bike lanes.

Abutting the pedestrian area will be planters, which were incorporated into the design to help make the bridge a welcoming gateway to the downtowns of both Derby and Shelton. The only engineering issue that remains is a traffic ramp at the west end of the bridge that provides drivers with access to Canal Street. The ramp is owned by the city of Shelton and is not currently part of the bridge project. It is handy for drivers but can be a bit of an obstacle for bicyclists.

The project also aims to equip the bridge with attractive, period-style lighting to replace its ordinary arced street lights. The new LED lighting fixtures will be both energy efficient and night-sky compliant, a term that refers to new environmental initiatives to reduce light pollution at night.

The design work on the project is scheduled to be complete in May 2020 with construction beginning that following October. The revamped bridge would open for traffic in October 2021.

Hearing attendees seemed eager to see the new design become reality. Nonetheless, they had plenty of questions.

“When bikes get to the [Shelton] end of the bridge, where are they supposed to go?” asked Mike Durso, a resident of Shelton’s White Hills.

Nielsen responded that the overarching plan is to connect the bridge’s bike lanes with Shelton’s riverside greenway, but noted that element of the design is still in the works.

“It would be nice to be able to dim or turn off the bridge’s lights completely during the Fourth of July fireworks,” noted Michaelangelo Izzo of Derby. “Can that be done?”

“I do believe that LED lights have the capability of being dimmed,” responded Nielsen.

Attendee Sue Pavlik lives in Beacon Falls — but her daughter lives at The Birmingham condominium on Canal Street. Accordingly, access to that road was of prime importance to Pavlik.

“They are also talking about building lofts on the Spongex site nearby,” said Pavlik. “That will mean a lot more traffic (for Canal Street).”

Nielsen said there have been proposals to add another access road to Canal Street, but nothing is final yet.

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