Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a three-day series detailing the Arrigoni Bridge construction project and the impact it will have on the lives of Middlesex County residents, commuters and businesses. Patch will continue to cover the project as it moves along its 18-month timeline toward an expected completion date in November of 2012.
If you’ve ever commuted over the Arrigoni Bridge on a weekday morning or afternoon, you know how congested the confluence of Route 9, downtown Middletown and the Arrigoni can get.
Now imagine it with only two of the Arrigoni’s four lanes open and work crews on the bridge.
That’s the scenario state and town leaders have grappled with for months as the impending $17 million rebuilding of the bridge’s deck and other sections has loomed.
The long-planned project, for which preliminary work has already started, is about to kick off in earnest. As of Tuesday, the state will install barriers on the bridge to block access to portions of it where reconstruction work will be under way.
With more than 33,000 vehicles using the Arrigoni Bridge daily, limiting access to one lane in each direction has many in the region on edge.
Business and town leaders, particularly in Middletown, fear the possibility of gridlock in their communities. Emergency management officials are worried about getting fire trucks and ambulances over the bridge quickly and education leaders are concerned students who go to regional schools and whose buses traverse the Arrigoni won’t get to school on time during morning commutes.
Some have criticized the state’s Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the project, saying the agency hasn’t done enough to determine and mitigate potential traffic impacts.
Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for DOT, said the agency has “pulled out all the stops” to communicate with residents and local officials in Portland, Middletown and beyond to address the traffic issues. The DOT, he said, also has developed numerous safeguards to help ease traffic congestion. The agency has created a traffic management plan that includes a “smart work zone management system,” that employs traffic cameras and changeable electronic road signs to alert motorists of real-time conditions on and around the bridge and of potential delays.
Those electronic road signs have been in use for several weeks now, not only on the approaches to the Arrigoni from nearby Route 9 and Interstate 91, but also on other highways in the region.
To the east, the portable signs will alert motorists on Routes 2 and 66 in Marlborough and Route 17 in Glastonbury of any potential delays, as well as on Routes 16 and 66 in East Hampton and Routes 17 and 17A in Portland.
To the west, the signs will be employed along Routes 17 and 66 in Middletown, as well as at the junction of Routes 691 and 66 in Meriden and Routes 17 and 79 in Durham.
The signs “could also be located at northbound Route 17 at South Main Street and eastbound Route 66 between Route 3 and Main Street to inform local motorists, closer to the bridge, about travel times,” a DOT traffic-management plan states.
The management plan also identifies several alternative routes in the region that motorists can use to avoid the Arrigoni and get across the Connecticut River.
About 10 miles to the north is the Route 3 Putnam Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River between Wethersfield and Glastonbury. Also to the north in the Hartford area are the Charter Oak, Route 2 Founders and Bulkeley bridges.
Access across the river south of the Arrigoni would be the Route 82 Bridge, a swing-span bridge the fords the Connecticut River between Haddam and East Haddam. That bridge is located about 13 miles south of the Arrigoni. Even farther south is the Baldwin Bridge, which carries some eight lanes of traffic on Interstate 95 between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook and over the Connecticut River.
There are ferries in the region that cross the river as well, but they are limited to the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry to the north and the Hadlyme-Chester Ferry south of the Route 82 swing bridge. Neither can hold many vehicles and the DOT does not view them as significant means of reducing traffic on the Arrigoni.
The biggest traffic concern for the Arrigoni and nearby roadways, state traffic officials say, is during peak travel periods in the mornings and afternoons.
Traffic is heavier in the westbound lanes of the bridge in the morning (with commuters traveling from Portland to the Middletown side of the bridge) and in the afternoons it escalates in the eastbound lanes as commuters return home to the suburbs on the eastern side of the bridge.
According to DOT traffic figures, traffic in the eastbound lanes of the Arrigoni peaks at an average of 2,079 vehicles at 4 p.m. In the westbound lanes, the traffic peaks at 7 a.m. each day with some 2,156 vehicles crossing the bridge, on average. A DOT traffic study indicates that cars will begin queuing in the westbound lane of the bridge between about 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and will queue on the eastbound lane between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The traffic tie-ups from the project are an inevitable burden the region will have to bear to make the Arrigoni Bridge safe and sustainable, Nursick added.
“If we want this bridge to last decades to come this is a bitter pill we have to swallow,” he said. “We’ve put this day of reckoning off for as long as possible. The other option, which is to do nothing, is not digestible.”