In time for the summer of 2016, the Niantic Bay Overlook boardwalk has returned to the waterfront of East Lyme, Connecticut, three years after it was severely damaged by Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.
The new 1.1-mile boardwalk and concrete path stretches from Cini Park on the eastern side to the Hole-in-the-Wall Beach at McCook Point Park in the west. It replaces the original boardwalk that opened to the public in 2005.
Even before Irene and Sandy, the gravel Niantic Bay boardwalk was experiencing problems with its design, eroding during minor storms.
“When Hurricane Irene struck in 2011, it washed away much of the surface of the walkway,” said Rachel Burckardt, project manager. “A year later, after Sandy hit, the site looked more like an archaeological site. It was just completely gone; nothing more than a pile of rocks remained with occasional remnants of the original path.”
The Town of East Lyme was keen to resurrect its popular scenic walkway – but this time with more attention to resiliency.
Starting in early 2013, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff served as the lead designer and construction manager for the 2,800-foot-long western section of the project. Bob Hannon served as the firm’s on-site resident engineer through the project’s completion and the May grand opening. Weiss Construction was the contractor.
For the eastern portion of the walkway, Amtrak replaced the existing wooden boardwalk with a concrete boardwalk as part of a larger project replacing the aging bascule rail bridge that crosses the Niantic River.
For the west end of the walkway, East Lyme undertook the work itself and reached an agreement with Amtrak to cover the cost of stabilizing the revetment slope between the tracks and the path in exchange for Amtrak providing flag protection for the contractor’s workers. This agreement, combined with federal and state funding as well as other funding avenues, enabled East Lyme to complete the $5 million project at virtually no cost to local taxpayers.
Because of stability concerns in the event of another severe storm, designers did not pursue construction of a traditional wood boardwalk along Niantic Bay.
“We went with stronger materials, installing steel sheet piling 25-30 feet into the sand to support a concrete walking surface,” Burckardt said. “The new walkway was built strong enough to withstand a 100-year storm without severe damage.”
The sturdier path and revetment slope adds another layer of storm protection for residents along the coastline, acting as a barrier between the town and potential storm surge.
The 10-foot-wide path, located 4-to-5 feet above the beach, features a sturdy plastic-coated steel railing along the shoreline and a chain link fence along the inland side to separate the trail from the revetment slope and Amtrak rail line.
The sturdier path and revetment slope also adds another layer of storm protection for residents along the coastline, acting as a barrier between the town and potential storm surge.
“We were able to re-stone the slope that goes from the walkway to the tracks,” Burckardt said. “Now, the walkway and the sheeting provide better protection to Amtrak’s slope and tracks, and the tracks act as a dike during a storm that can protect the town from flooding.”
The design of the path was deliberately kept simple.
“The Overlook shows how a simple design can be very elegant,” Burckardt said. “It takes you along a waterfront with amazing scenery. You don’t need to build something elaborate that would take away from the ocean view.”
Niantic Bay Overlook is primarily used by the local community, but nearby Niantic Village is a popular destination for visitors as well. The reconstructed coastal walkway adds a new dimension to East Lyme as a destination for tourists, connecting to several of the town’s restaurants and shops, as well as the parks and beaches on either end of the path.
The coastal path was reopened to the public in March, and on April 24, it was the site of the Niantic Bay Overlook 5K run. [Watch video]
“The end of the race followed the overlook to the finish line,” Burckardt said. “The runners just loved it, experiencing the wonderful vistas along the waterfront.”
She was pleased to have an opportunity to work on a project that improved the quality of life for the East Lyme community.
“It’s something a little bit different from what we typically do, and it’s a wonderful enhancement for the town,” Burckardt said. “The public reaction has been very enthusiastic and all-around positive.”