NEW BRITAIN – Years of planning and design came to fruition Friday afternoon when construction officially kicked off for the city’s Beehive Bridge project.
The Main Street overpass bridge that travels over Route 72 will soon be renovated to feature four bee sculptures, a beehive sculpture and sport a multicolored, “honey-comb” pedestrian enclosure for walkers. The design references the city’s seal, which features a beehive and bees and a phrase that translates from Latin to say “Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey.”
According to Mayor Erin Stewart, the idea for Beehive Bridge first came to her years ago in the form of a sketch on a piece of paper. Stewart was trying to brainstorm ways to revamp the city.
“What would it take to transform downtown?” Stewart said, remembering what she asked herself years go.
When Route 72 divided downtown New Britain in the 1970s, it permanently changed the landscape and “connectivity” between parts of the city. The overpass is the main way to travel between downtown, the Little Poland neighborhood and the New Brite Plaza business district. The Common Council and Mayor William McNamara in 1978 named the span “The Lions Club Memorial Bridge” in honor of the local civic club. A bronze plaque noting the honor is located on the south end of the bridge.
“When the highway was put in it really split Main Street into two different pieces: you had Broad Street that thrived and Main Street that died,” Stewart said.
Both local and statewide officials hope the $7-million-plus project revitalizes that connectivity and becomes a source of pride for residents. Downtown District Executive Director Gerry Amodio said the project has the support of the business community. Amodio said he looks forward to the bridge being a symbol and nod to the many cultures represented in the city.
“Today, it (the bridge) also provides a more-linked space between the Central Park downtown and the Little Poland downtown, bringing two thriving business areas together,” Amodio said.
Capitol Region Council of Governments Executive Director Lyle Wray said the project is a critical building block to New Britain’s downtown transformation. Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker congratulated the city on moving forward with the project. Redeker emphasized the bridge’s location near the downtown CTFastrak station as important to many of the bus system’s riders.
“For me, New Britain has become the sweet-spot of Fastrak,” Redeker said. “It represents everything that Fastrak was built to accomplish: mobility for people, new opportunity for people, economic development and then tying it in with the community and connecting communities.”
In addition to the design elements of the bridge, the project also involves pedestrian improvements such as widening the sidewalks from 8 feet to 20 feet, decorative streetscape elements, art features and the creation of two pocket parks on the north side of the bridge. Designers of the bridge drew inspiration from the Frog Bridge in Willimantic.
Fuss & O’Neill - along with firms Richter and Cegan and Svigals & Partners – were involved in the design of the bridge. The Common Council awarded the construction contract for the project to Martin Laviero Contractor Inc. in March.
Ted DeSantos, Senior Vice President at Fuss & O’Neill and board member at Connecticut Main Street Center, said this project is a great example of engineering, architecture and art coming together.
“The Beehive Bridge will be uniquely New Britain. It will be an icon in your downtown and it will be something for all of us to be proud of.”
DeSantos said the project will make creative use of light with colored panels. During the day the sunlight will pass through the panels creating patterns on the sidewalk. At night the bridge will be illuminated via LED lighting.
Director of Public Works Mark Moriarty said it’s amazing the project has gotten to this point and is set to begin. Many different people have supported and contributed to this project since the idea was first thought of, Moriarty emphasized.
“The project that we’re building is unlike anything else … It was like nothing else I’ll ever do again,” Moriarty said.
The project is Phase 5 of the city’s Complete Streets Masterplan. Funding comes from a Federal Transit Authority Bus Livability grant and the state.
Construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.