WILTON — Before the end of the year, decisions will be made on how big, attractive and how motorists will navigate construction of a new bridge spanning the Comstock Brook at Lovers Lane. It won’t be until the spring of 2023, however, until construction takes place.

A virtual meeting on Oct. 15 with the team in charge of the project outlined the deficiencies with the present bridge necessitating replacement, options for how construction will take place, and what the new structure might look like. A robust question-an-answer period with viewers watching online took place after the presentation and residents who would like to make further comments can do so until Oct. 29.

Details on how to view a recording of the meeting and submit comments may be found on the project webpage.

Lovers Lane intersects with Ridgefield Road (Route 33) just before entering Wilton Center. Lovers Lane connects with Merwin Lane. Both are dead-ends and there are 10 houses as well as the Wilton Playshop along the road that leads to Merwin Meadows town park.

In addition to some structural problems, the 90-year-old bridge is only 16 feet wide, which renders it “functionally obsolete,” said Thomas Lopata, the project senior engineer with consulting firm Clough Harbour Associates, recently acquired by CME Associates.

One of the decisions that will have to be made within the next four to six weeks, town engineer Frank Smeriglio said Friday, is whether to build the bridge 22 feet wide or 24 feet wide. The width is determined by the number of cars that pass over the bridge, which the project team estimated to be a daily average of 400 or more.

That number was contested during the question-and-answer period, and while a traffic count was not done this year because results might be skewed by the pandemic, the engineers said they based the figure on past traffic surveys.

The width will ultimately depend on input from area residents, Smeriglio said.

“You’re building a bridge once. If you start at 22, you can’t make it 24,” he said. However, “because of the nature of the neighborhood with its historic value, we may want to make it smaller.”

While the railings on both sides of the present bridge are in satisfactory condition, they do not conform to modern safety standards, and how they will be replaced is another decision that has to be made soon.

The choices are:

 An open metal rail system that would allow a view of the brook below with concrete-end blocks with a stone pattern and timber guide rails.

 A concrete parapet with either a stone design or parapet made of real stone, also with timber guide rails.

Details that can be decided later in the design process are what color the metal rails would be if that were the choice, and if real stone masonry would be used instead of a stone face for the parapet if that were chosen. In addition to input from residents, Smeriglio will seek comments from the town’s Architectural Review Board on the aesthetics.

There is also a final choice to be made now on how the bridge will be constructed.

The first option is referred to as alternative 1A, which would involve using a one-lane temporary bridge with signal lights at each end. The estimated cost of construction is $2.7 million and the length of time for total construction would be six to seven months. This would be a safer option for the work crew, Lopata said.

Alternative 1B would involve working on the bridge in sections and shifting traffic patterns. This would cost approximately $2.6 million and take eight months of construction. There would also be more traffic stoppages due to the narrowed roadway.

A decision on which alternative to choose will be made after speaking with the property owners on Lovers Lane, Smeriglio said, several of whom will have their driveways affected by the work. Neither scenario will block access to the Wilton Playshop.

What’s wrong with the bridge?

Although the superstructure of the bridge, which includes the deck, pavement and piers is rated “satisfactory,” there are serious problems with the substructure, which has a rating of “poor.” In particular, the concrete abutments, which go down to the water, are rated “poor” and the scour is rated “critical.”

Scour, Smeriglio explained, is the erosion by water of dirt where it touches the bridge abutments.

“The more soil that’s removed from the area touching the abutment, the more the bottom is exposed, which makes things weaker,” he said.

When completed, the 60-foot bridge would pass 100-year and 500-year storm ratings. The rail parapet system would be crash tested, and the roadway at each end would be reconstructed and drainage would be improved.

Costs

Because this is a “Design Managed by State” project, there is no cost to the town for the design process. Payment will be 20-percent state funds and 80-percent federal funds.

For actual construction — estimated at $2.7 million to $2.8 million — the town will be responsible for 20 percent of the cost, with federal funds paying the remaining 80 percent.

editor@wiltonbulletin.com