The concept for the Beehive Bridge grew out of a conversation I had in 2014 with the drawing of an initial design on a napkin. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d see this architectural gem come to life.
On September 19, more than 300 people gathered on our Main Street overpass for the official opening of the Beehive Bridge. This was an exciting evening that brought a new energy to our downtown and marked the beginning of a new era for our City.
The beehive theme stems from our City seal, which was penned by forefather Elihu Burritt, which translates from Latin: “Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey.” This City motto dates to 1871 and is a testament to the hardworking worker bees who over the years helped to make New Britain the Hardware City of the World. On the City seal are seven bees, which legend has it, represent the seven founding factories in New Britain, like the Stanley Works, North & Judd Manufacturing, the Fafnir Bearing Company, Landers, Frary, & Clark, and others.
This Beehive Bridge aims in part to repair the damage done during the early 1970s when the state of Connecticut constructed Route 72 and put it right through our downtown, decimating complete roads like Commercial Street and leveling entire City blocks. Combined with “Urban Renewal,” profound changes came to New Britain that have taken decades to reverse.
Contrary to popular belief, this project was more than just a bridge renovation: it also included work as part of the 5th phase of our award-winning Complete Streets Master Plan. This work has been ongoing since 2012 and is now planned for at least a total of 9 phases, continuing the streetscape features to the outer portions of downtown. We have secured state and federal grant money so that the City will never carry the full cost of these projects.
More than half of this $7.4 million streetscape project was funded through transportation-specific grants, while the remaining portion came from city bonding. We could not spend the money on anything other than what the grants were intended for. As many speakers reiterated during the dedication event on September 19, public infrastructure projects like this have a compounding ripple effect as they attract visitors and new developers who are energized by the positive changes they are seeing.
We are witnessing the first major project like this with the $58 million construction of Columbus Commons, a transformative transit oriented development just steps from the downtown CTfastrak station and the new bridge.
Before the bridge makeover, there was limited maintenance done by the state since the 1970s. The recent work included not only the bridge façade improvements and the complete renovation and replacement of the bridge membrane, but also the replacement of the railroad crossing near Columbus Boulevard. In addition, the replacement of intersection traffic lights on East Main Street, the reconstruction of the intersection at East Main Street, and the addition of pocket parks on the eastern side of the bridge were all part of the overall project, which included the replacement of sidewalks from Main to Lafayette Streets as well.
The beehive bridge is a reminder of where we came from and its unique look inspires us to look ahead to the possibilities of the future!
Erin Stewart is the mayor of New Britain.
This column originally appeared in the New Britain Herald on Oct. 2, 2019.