Mill River bridge to shut down Monday; will re-open in 15 months

The bridge that went up the year the stock market went down (1929) will retire without ever crashing.

Starting Monday, the 81-year-old bridge that spans the Mill River -- on Mill Plain Road near the intersection with Brookside Drive -- will close to cars, trucks and pedestrians, as crews dismantle it and build a new, wider bridge at the spot.

Town officials said the project should last 15 months. During that time, motorists who've been using the stretch of Mill Plain Road from Brookside Drive to Round Hill Road will need to re-plot their paths. The shortest roundabout loops around Duck Farm Road and Brookside Drive. That span is roughly 1.3 miles, about a half-mile longer than the direct Mill Plain Road stretch.

According to Town Engineer Bill Hurley, the finished bridge will have a stone façade and timber guardrails backed with steel. The road will be widened a few feet and a sidewalk will be added to the bridge's eastern side -- the side closer to the riverside park.

New England Road Inc., the same company that renovated the Tide Mill Bridge a few years back, will perform the construction. They were awarded the $2.46 million contract on March 25. At least 95 percent of those funds will come from federal and state sources, Hurley said.

In addition to the bridgework, the contract calls for the firm to make drainage improvements to both the north bank of the Mill River and to the small island on which the current bridge supports itself. The contract permits work Sunday through Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The Mill Plain Road bridge is actually made of two smaller bridges that are welded together atop the small island in the river. A wide, concrete support pier sits on the island. The two pieces run a dozen or so yards atop the support and then reach over the bubbling river to the main road. Altogether, the bridge is roughly 40 yards long. The road there is squeezed between concrete barriers, before which sidewalks vanish into the road. The narrow pedestrian portion is strewn with pebbles.

Hurley said that while there are similarities between this project and the one on Harbor Road -- they're both made of two smaller bridges -- this one should be simpler for two reasons: the construction won't compete with oscillating tides and contractors can work on both bridge parts simultaneously. (According to Fairfield Citizen archives, the Tide Mill Bridge reopened after three years of work in summer 2006, after $3.7 million of work.)

During a 10-minute stretch around lunchtime on Wednesday, 87 cars and two trucks drove across the Mill River bridge. No pedestrians crossed, although the weather was cool and rainy. On nice evenings and on weekends, area residents said, the bridge is crossed frequently by runners, walkers, dog-owners and bicyclists.

One Brookside Drive man, who lives a few homes west of the bridge, said that the closure wouldn't bother him. "Except I heard that it'll take five years," he said. "Is that true?" The man was told the plan calls for 15 months. "Well then nope," he said. "It doesn't bother me. Good thing we don't have earthquakes."

Tom and Linda Conley, who live in a nearby Brookside Drive home and who both work in the downtown area, said they've been prepared for the closure for a while. Linda has long used the less direct Duck Farm route anyway, she said, because "all the disrepair and ruts on the bridge make it unpleasant to drive on."

When asked how she feels about her street becoming a detour, Linda said that commuters already use Brookside Drive as an alternative to the Merritt Parkway. She pointed toward her bedroom. "If you sleep in, you know when rush hour comes because all you hear is whoosh, whoosh, whoosh," she said. She said she hopes the construction won't exacerbate that.

Her husband Tom -- who is the town's electrical inspector and a former RTM member from districts 3 and 10 -- said he thinks the spike in traffic will come -- but only for the first few weeks. Once local and out-of-town drivers get used to the closure, he said, they'll migrate to the spiderweb of other roads that circumvent the bridge. Then the extra traffic in front of their home should diminish, he surmised.

Meanwhile, the residents of Mill Plain Road who live closest to the bridge may get a welcome reprieve.

"It's going to be quiet with less traffic out front," said Christine Collin, who lives in a home there, a stone's throw from the bridge. "Of course, it will be inconvenient for everybody else. But I'd rather have it fixed than fall apart."