NAUGATUCK — Over the past week, longtime Naugatuck residents have been reminded of days long ago when the borough was a booming factory town.
The nostalgia is not a result of those factories returning back to Naugatuck: those days seem to be long gone. It is because they have seen traffic backed up around the downtown area, which are scenes reminiscent of what it looked like when tens of thousands of people worked in scattered shifts in the downtown area.
From the sounds of it, residents will have to get used to the traffic.
Two bridge repair projects being completed simultaneously — the Whittemore Memorial Bridge on Maple Street and the bridge over Route 68 in Union City — are causing traffic backups throughout town.
“With progress comes traffic, unfortunately,” Department of Public Works Director Jim Stewart said. “The traffic will be challenging for sure over the next couple of years.”
Stewart said he and other borough officials will be in discussions this week with the state Department of Transportation and the construction crew working on the bridge repairs to see what can be done to help alleviate some of the traffic congestion.
He said the borough had no choice but to complete its repair of the Whittemore Memorial Bridge at the same time that the DOT was repairing the bridge on Route 68. The Whittemore Bridge was in desperate need of repairs and the cost was getting higher the longer officials put it off. Unfortunately, he said, the state had already started working on its bridge by the time Naugatuck could get underway with its own bridge repair.
The Route 68 bridge project is a $12.8 million undertaking that will last until November 2018. That project includes replacing the existing concrete bridge beams with high-strength weathering steel, full replacement of the existing concrete deck, reconstruction of the bridge set at both abutments, reconstruction of existing wing walls and various repairs to the existing five piers. Extensive utility relocation is also included in the plans, according to DOT.
The DOT states the project is necessary due to the bridge’s “deficient superstructure,” primarily due to the condition of the pre-stressed concrete girders. A superstructure is a structure built on top of something else.
Traffic is allowed to pass over the bridge in narrow pathways during construction. The bridge is usually closed on weekends but was open on Saturday.
The Whittemore Bridge project is a $6 million local project that is slated to be complete by the end of 2017. Traffic is open in one direction, heading west toward the center of Naugatuck.
The bridge will be made more stable and it will be reconstructed to look like the original structure that was built in 1912, which had walls made of cement and stone on either side. There will also be benches and old fashioned light poles.
It is too early to tell whether the Whittemore bridge work will affect business downtown, said Marco Nardelli, co-owner of Nardelli’s Grinder Shoppe on Maple Street just past the bridge.
“You can see that people are confused because they approach the bridge (going east) and then have to turn around,” he said.
He worries that as more people realize the bridge is under construction, they will begin avoiding that area. He said he has heard from people in the construction industry that it would likely be possible to open the highway to traffic in both directions in future stages.
“I hope the town takes that route,” he said.
Both projects are being completed by Mohawk Northeast of Southington, which was the lowest bidder on the Maple Street project, according to the Naugatuck Board of Mayor and Burgesses.
Stewart said there are other repairs being done throughout town over the next few years that may affect traffic, including major road resurfacing projects, a widening of Cross Street and new lights that the DOT is installing off Route 8 at the Maple Street, City Hill Street and Route 68 exits.
“People want their bridges safe, nice infrastructure and paved roads,” Stewart said. “That comes with some inconvenience for traffic when those projects are underway. But in the end, we would rather have them done.”