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Connecticut awarded $65 million to replace 113-year-old bridge in Old Lyme

Connecticut has been awarded $65 million in federal funding to begin the replacement of the 113-year-old Connecticut River Bridge that carries trains over the river between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook.

The bridge, built in 1907, carries at least 56 trains every day, bringing Amtrak passengers from Virginia to Boston, moving commuters on the Shore Line East service and giving passage to freight trains headed to Worcester and Providence.

The funding will kick-start the replacement, which is meant to streamline travel and reduce delays for rail and maritime traffic, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, announced Tuesday morning at the DEEP Marine Headquarters in Old Lyme.

Blumenthal and Courtney said the bridge, though historic, is subject to breakdowns that slow both rail traffic and boat traffic. When there are rail delays on the bridge, Blumenthal said, "traffic is paralyzed up and down the East Coast."

The senator noted that the Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is the busiest in the nation and the trains that run along the century-old bridge are a pivotal mode of transportation to southeastern Connecticut.

"There is tremendous potential for increasing the flow of rail traffic here if we have reliable speedy crossing of this river, which right now is simply not happening," Blumenthal said.

"It's time to move on to a new structure," Courtney said. He called the project a "really exciting development for the state of Connecticut and also for the crusade and cause of really improving and upgrading ground transportation."

The new bridge, which will be located just south of the current bridge, will be higher — 24 feet instead of 18 — allowing for larger boats to pass under. It will have the same two-track configuration and will allow trains to pass over at 60 mph, rather than the current 45 mph speed limit.

The funding will cover the first phase of replacing the bridge. The $65 million awarded is part of a $144 million grant from the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant Program, which also will allow for the replacement of the Walk Bridge in Norwalk.

Blumenthal said the funding is "great news but it's only a down payment." According to the grant proposal, the entire project is estimated to cost $432,470,000.

The grant proposal included a $40.45 million contribution and $14.46 million commitment from the state Department of Transportation.

Keith Brothers, business manager for the CT Laborers' District Council, said Tuesday that projects like this create hundreds of jobs.

Courtney called the project a "job multiplier" and Blumenthal said there would be a huge return on investment, not only with more jobs but with more economic growth and support for small businesses.

The bridge is the oldest of its kind between New Haven and Boston. At the time it was built, Courtney said, it was "a wonder of the world." Before its construction, he said, trains had to stop on the Old Saybrook side, moving passengers and freight to barges to get across the river.

"It's really done great service over the years," he said of the bridge, "but as you can see it's definitely showing its age and the need to repair and fix the bridge has reached a point where it really is time for the Amtrak system and the federal government to step in."

"As much as we love it, and we do love it, 113 years is a long time for a bridge to exist," Blumenthal said.

The environmental assessment for the new bridge has been completed and the design for the replacement is almost finished, Blumenthal said. Construction is expected to begin in 2024 and be completed by 2030.

t.hartz@theday.com

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