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Emergency I-95 repairs in overdrive

Northbound lanes in; south due soon

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Construction workers yesterday prepared to swing the skeleton of a temporary bridge onto Interstate 95 to replace an overpass that melted last week in a fiery crash.

If all goes well, the temporary bridge should be ready to bear southbound traffic by the end of the week. The northbound lanes of the bridge were repaired and reopened Sunday night.

The US Department of Transportation yesterday said it would give Connecticut $2 million in emergency aid to build the new bridge and to pay for police overtime for traffic control. The agency has already expedited $11.2 million in federal highway funds for the project.

Commuters and truck drivers continued to cope with the aftermath of Thursday's crash, which stopped all traffic on a section of I-95, a Northeast traffic artery.

Kevin Hollister said he usually drives from his home in West Haven or takes a van pool to his job in Norwalk, but yesterday, he took the train.

"I didn't want to chance it today," said Hollister, 33. "This is one of the busiest commutes in the world, so anything happening like this will make it bad."

Yesterday morning, Metro-North Commuter Railroad ridership was up about 30 percent, or about 4,000 passengers, about 1,200 of whom were headed to Grand Central Terminal in New York. The rest were intrastate passengers to the Stamford or Greenwich stations, an increase of more than 75 percent from a typical Monday, railroad spokesman Dan Brucker said.

Some riders could not get seats, but Metro-North did not seek help from Amtrak and had to make additional stops to accommodate the extra riders, Brucker said.

The state Department of Transportation reported that traffic on the Merritt Parkway was heavier than normal, heading into Fairfield County and New York. A 14-mile backup was reported along sections of the parkway yesterday morning; backups of 8 miles to 10 miles are the norm.

Traffic that stayed on I-95 was sent on a detour through Bridgeport streets.

Truck drivers were encouraged to travel on Route 8 to Interstate 84 or to avoid Connecticut altogether. The Merritt Parkway is closed to commercial traffic because of its low overpasses and tight ramps; State Police stepped up enforcement of the ban.

Construction workers spent the weekend assembling the temporary bridge and setting up supports for the structure. Once the pieces of the bridge are in place, workers will put down a metal decking and pave it, said Art Gruhn, chief engineer for the state Department of Transportation, who attributed the results to "a lot of hard work."

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