Access points a wicket for Putnam Bridge bike path

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
Tom Ryan (left), an engineer from Close, Jensen and Miller, P.C., and Tim Fields from the CT DOT explain how the Putnam Bridge would be reconstructed to include a bicycle/pedestrian path, at a meeting at the Riverfront Community Center on Aug. 10. Photo by Steve Smith.
Tom Ryan (left), an engineer from Close, Jensen and Miller, P.C., and Tim Fields from the CT DOT explain how the Putnam Bridge would be reconstructed to include a bicycle/pedestrian path, at a meeting at the Riverfront Community Center on Aug. 10. Photo by Steve Smith.

At a meeting at the Riverfront Community Center on Aug. 10, the Connecticut Department of Transportation showed an updated design concept for repairs to the Putnam Bridge (Route 3), which connects Glastonbury to Wethersfield, that would include a 6-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path.

The bridge spans 2,400 feet over the Connecticut River, and carries 54,000 people on an average day. The rehabilitation is estimated to cost $33 million, approved for the 2012-13 state budget. The addition of the path will add $5-10 million to the project.

The Putnam Bridge was originally constructed in 1959, and last underwent a major rehabilitation in 1987.

Representatives from the towns of Glastonbury and Wethersfield were present, as were those from Glastonbury Bikeways, Goodwin College, and several other interested parties. About two dozen residents of several towns, as far away as Middletown and New Haven, were also in attendance, and several of them rode their bicycles to the meeting.

Julie Georges, the DOT Bridges and Facility Division spokesperson who moderated the discussion of stakeholders, said the rehabilitation of the bridge, which was already in the planing process, added the pathway to the plans as part of the DOT's efforts to help connect such trails in the state.

“From the DOT's perspective, we acknowledge that the ped/bike access across the Putnam Bridge is a good idea,” Georges said, adding that the highest priority is to keep the bridge in a good state of repair. Georges also said the bridge's superstructure currently rates a 3 on the DOT's scale of 1 to 9. “One means it is closed,”  she said, “so 3 means it's getting close to closed.”

After Georges explained that the added width to the bridge would include a narrowing of vehicle lanes, and push the limits of the capacity/demand balance, path advocates seemed to agree that the width of the path would be acceptable (as opposed to not having a path at all), but, the sticking point of the path's construction may be that the rehabilitation project does not include approaches to the pathway on either side of the river.

In Wethersfield, the most likely access point to the path will be on or near Great Meadow Road, where the Heritage Way Bike Path already crosses Route 3. But, on the Glastonbury side, the access point is less obvious. There is also approximately a mile of Route 3 in Glastonbury that would not be part of the bridge reconstruction. Possibilities include a ramp or stair system where Route 3 crosses over Naubuc Road, a ramp near Putnam Plaza or Glastonbury Boulevard, or possibly a seasonal access closer to the river.

“The approaches have always been a concern," said Glastonbury Town Manager Richard Johnson, adding that it would be important to identify whether there was a "deal-breaker," meaning that if the approaches connecting the trail on the bridge to surface roads or trails were not feasible, that may affect the decision to include the path on the bridge. Johnson added that the cost could become unmanageable for either or both of the two towns.

“I think it would be difficult for Wethersfield and/or Glastonbury to do the heavy lifting on the approaches,” Johnson said, asking if there might be a federal funding sought for phasing in the construction of the access points, perhaps over time.

Glastonbury Town Engineer Dan Pennington said there should not be separation between the bridge reconstruction and the approaches for the path. “If there is not a reasonable expectation that the approach work will be funded in some fashion,” Pennington said, “then the expenditure becomes problematic. I don't know that you can draw a dark line between the two.”

Goodwin College Vice President Todd Andrews said Goodwin would be willing to use some of its land that nearly abuts the bridge and Route 3 on the north side for an access point. Andrews added that access structures such as stairways would be less expensive to build than long ramps requiring the re-shaping of land.

“There may be opportunities to do that on either side of the bridge,” he said. “These are structures that wouldn't require a significant amount of build-up of earth.”

Not everyone at the discussion was in favor of adding the path to the bridge project. “The people I've talked to don't feel it's necessary to spend that kind of money,” said Stephen Sylvestro, a Glastonbury resident who was representing an unofficial group of other local residents. “I think the legislation for pedestrian/bike paths is for transportation, not recreational use. I just don't see how this is such an economic impact that it's necessary to get bikes across to Wethersfield.”

Richard Stone, representing the CT Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, suggested that there could be a form of access over the Putnam Bridge sooner, if CT Transit Bus service, with bike racks, would add routes over the bridge.

“Putting the buses on this bridge will immediately put access for bikes,” Stone said.

Stone also suggested that that section of Route 3 be converted from a highway-like connection to a more local road, with lower speed limits, thereby accommodating bike access on the roadway itself.

“If you lower the speed limits, you have a whole different idea,” Stone said.

Originally, Georges said the outcome of the meeting was to hopefully come to some consensus of an action plan, but, at the conclusion of the evening, she said that since there were so many ideas presented, that all parties should have time to “digest” the information and reconvene for a similar meeting in the near future.

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