Start of repairs to Whittemore Bridge to be determined

Repairs of Naugatuck’s historic Whittemore Bridge could be delayed since the borough did not receive the necessary permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection until last month. –RA ARCHIVE


NAUGATUCK — A longer-than-expected wait for a permit could push back planned repairs of the Whittemore Bridge, the century-old span on Maple Street that connects the east and west sides of the borough across the Naugatuck River.

The project, estimated two years ago to cost the borough about $3 million, was supposed to go out to bid over the winter, but the borough did not receive the necessary permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection until last month, said James Stewart, director of public works.

The borough also expects to receive another permit “any day now” from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will be needed to excavate the riverbed, Stewart said.

Stewart said he hopes the engineering firm hired by the borough, Clough Harbour & Associates, can put the project out to bid this month. Voters seven years ago approved $2 million in bond money for the project.

“We didn’t have detailed design drawings to estimate off of at the time,” Stewart said.

The estimate two years ago put the cost at $4.25 million, with the state to reimburse 30 percent. The State Bond Commission last year approved $1.3 million toward the project. That means the borough would have to come up with another $1 million, but Stewart said officials will have a more exact figure once the bids come in.

The difference the borough needs to make up, and whether it can fund that amount as a capital expense in next year’s budget, will determine the start date for the project. If the money is available, Stewart said, he envisions work beginning this summer or fall.

“It’s all depending on the funding,” Stewart said.

The state Department of Transportation has ruled for at least a decade that the bridge is in need of repair, although officials say it does not present a danger to the public. Vehicles that weigh more than 40 tons are not allowed in the eastbound lane.

Concrete layered on top of the bridge’s arches is rotting and must be replaced. The riverbed will be excavated to add stones to the footings, which running water has weakened over the years.

The arched bridge, constructed in 1912, was designed by Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

The repair specifications include restoring the bridge to its appearance from 1912, the year it was constructed. Two years later, the bridge was named for John Howard Whittemore, the wealthy industrialist who commissioned and donated many of the borough’s historic buildings.

Borough officials hope to replace the metal railings along the bridge with four-foot stone walls, with a carved-in seat facing downstream and old-fashioned lamps. The flood of 1955 washed away those elements along with the bridge’s dedication plaque. The railings were installed five years later, along with a new plaque, now located on the bridge’s west end. The repairs would move the plaque to its original location above the stone bench at the center of the bridge.

If money allows, Stewart said he would like to see the bridge paved with bricks, although it was never a brick road, according to members of the Naugatuck Historical Society. The crumbling bricks on Hillside Avenue, the borough’s only brick road, are a cause for perennial complaints, but they have lasted longer than asphalt does, Stewart said.

“If this lasts 60 years and it’s falling apart, I’ll be very happy,” Stewart said.