WRA Comments on Proposed Route 74 Bridge Work

The Ct. Department of Transportation has proposed replacing the Route 74 bridge over the Willimantic River between Tolland and Willington. The proposal includes raising the level of the bridge five feet to avoid damage by future flood waters, which would require raising and lengthening the highway approaches to this bridge. The Alliance is concerned about the impact of the construction and the proposed change in road elevations on the river and on public access to the adjoining Nye Holman State Forest. These concerns are outlined WRA's letter to the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

June 18, 2007

To: Richard Armstrong, Principal Engineer

Connecticut Department of Transportation

2800 Berlin Turnpike, Room 3303

Newington, CT 06131

Re: Ct. DOT Project No. 160-139 Proposed Replacement of Bridge 00982 over the Willimantic River on Rt. 74 at the Tolland/Willington line

Dear Mr. Armstrong,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed bridge replacement and its potential impact on the river and adjacent area. Since 1995, the Willimantic River Alliance has pursued its mission to "to protect and preserve the Willimantic River through cooperative and educational activities that promote regional awareness, stewardship, and enjoyment of the river and its watershed." In pursuit of this mission, we wish to express our concerns about the proposed bridge replacement on Rt. 74 and to note issues that DOT should consider during the planning and construction of this bridge.

In 2003, the Willimantic River's 25- mile length was designated as an official state Willimantic River Greenway/Blueway. Nine riverside towns work with the Alliance to enhance recreational access for boating, fishing, or walking trails and also to protect natural resources along the river. The river is a popular canoe/kayak route for 24 miles, and several trails link numerous town and state properties along the river. The Alliance website has detailed descriptions of these features.

At an Alliance board meeting on May 30, 2007, members expressed concerns about the bridge replacement's potential impact on the river and on the Nye-Holman State Forest property immediately north of the bridge in Tolland. This State Forest property is an important part of the Greenway. One of the river's most popular launch sites (and the starting point for the Upper Willimantic River Canoe Race) is located here. This property is also the south entrance to a year-round fly fishing area, DEP's Cole Wilde Trout Management Area (TMA), which is one of the oldest and most popular TMAs in the state. Our concerns include

  1. Safe entrance and exit for the Nye-Holman State Forest property
  2. Protection of natural and man-made features
  3. Boating safety during and after construction.

1. Safe entrance and exit for the Nye-Holman State Forest property

VEHICLE ACCESS: Forest visitors already have difficulty entering and exiting the Forest entrance road beside the bridge because of the poor sight lines in both directions and the speed of traffic on Rt. 74 (especially the eastbound traffic speeding downhill). The Alliance is concerned about the increased hazards resulting from modifications to the entrance road to accommodate a raised bridge and approach to the bridge on Rt. 74. The entrance road might be graded to slope up the Rt. 74, which would Willimantic River Alliance Comments, June 18, 2007, Page 2 of 2 Re: Ct. DOT Project No. 160-139 Proposed Replacement of Bridge 00982 over the Willimantic River on Rt. 74 at the Tolland/Willington line create an uphill climb for those exiting onto Rt. 74. Another possibility would be to move the entrance further west (and closer to the curve in Rt. 74). The upper Forest entrance road (which is even further west) offers very poor sight lines and is not a good alternative. Either changing the slope of the current entrance road or moving it toward the west would worsen sight lines for people entering and exiting the Forest and increase the hazard for them. This is a significant problem that must be resolved. We recommend that DOT consider a lower bridge height and thus a lower Rt. 74 approach to the bridge in order to ensure a safe entrance to Nye-Holman State Forest beside the bridge.

PEDESTRIAN ACCESS: Currently, there is no safe place to walk across Rt. 74 between the State Forest parcel on the north side and South River Road on the south side (directly across from the Forest entrance). We recommend that the design take into consideration this hazard and offer a structure that would allow safe pedestrian passage either over or under Rt. 74 or the bridge so that this Greenway connection is safer. We also recommend a sidewalk on the bridge to accommodate pedestrians for safe walking between West Willington village and the State Forest in Tolland.

2. Protection of natural and man-made features

This Nye Holman State Forest property offers a scenic and restful riverside setting. The bridge's design should have a scale and appearance in keeping with the natural features of the area. The public's enjoyment of the Forest would be significantly diminished by construction activity and storage in the Forest parcel. We request that these activities be confined to as small an area as possible, and that the disturbed area be restored to its original state after construction. Since this is the site of the historic Nye farm, an analysis of potential impacts on archaeological artifacts should be part of the planning for this project.

A proposed temporary bridge to the north of the existing bridge would impact both access to and use of the Forest property and potentially impact its natural features. The canoe/kayak launch site is at the riverside picnic area north of the bridge, where there is an easy slope down to the river. The rest of the property has steep slopes along the river. We are concerned about potential impacts on the use of this popular launch and on its future stability if construction activity is on or near this area.

We are also concerned about the potential negative impacts of construction activity on water quality in the river, such as erosion and disturbance of the river bottom. Providing unimpeded fish and wildlife passage during and after construction should also be considered as part of the construction plan.

3. Boating safety during and after construction

The river is a popular boating venue, so consideration of possible hazards to boaters during construction needs to be included in the planning for this project. The bridge design should avoid supporting structures in the river's channel that would be hazardous to boaters passing under the bridge.

If you need further information, please contact us at info@willimanticriver.org.

Yours Truly,

Laurence Diamond, President