Two-way traffic returns to Whittemore Bridge

Cars travel both directions across the Whittemore Bridge in Naugatuck on Tuesday morning. The bridge, which is undergoing a reconstruction project and has been one way since June 2016, reopened to two-way traffic earlier this month. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Drivers in Naugatuck can rejoice a little. The Whittemore Bridge is open in both directions again.

The borough started reconstructing the bridge, which spans the Naugatuck River along Maple Street, in June 2016. At the time, the bridge became a one-way road for cars entering downtown as work got underway to restore the bridge back to its former glory.

The project isn’t finished yet, but earlier this month one side of the bridge was reopened to two-way traffic.

Although cars are able to drive both ways on the bridge, it is narrow passing as one side of the bridge is still closed off to finish work, Public Works Director Jim Stewart said. The work still left to do includes completing drainage, finishing a retaining wall, and eliminating the above-ground utilities, he said.

As the weather warms up, the borough will place concrete pavers on the bridge and put the final treatment on the parapets to make them match the old granite, Stewart said.

The work will also include placing bricks along the roadway, Stewart said. This means the bridge will likely become one-way again for a short time.

After the brick work is finished, the lighting will be installed, Stewart said.

All the work is expected to be completed by mid-spring, depending on the weather, Stewart said.

Once it is finished the 105-year-old bridge will look like it did before the Flood of 1955 destroyed it.

However, the work on the bridge wasn’t just for cosmetic reasons.

The majority of the work was done to repair the concrete arches holding the bridge up. The concrete on top of the arches had begun to rot away and the footings had been weakened by the running water of the river. This had reduced the bridge’s weight limit to 40 tons and prevented some larger vehicles from crossing it.

Mohawk Northeast, Inc., of Plantsville, was awarded the contract for the project, which is expected to cost $6 million. The borough is paying for $3 million of the work through a bond approved by voters. Naugatuck also received a $3 million a grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The original bridge was constructed in 1912. It was built to honor businessman and philanthropist John H. Whittemore, one of Naugatuck’s most famous residents, who died in 1910. He was head of one of the borough’s largest industries, the Naugatuck Malleable Iron Co.

Architect Henry Bacon of McKim, Mead & White of New York, one of the most famous firms of the era, designed the bridge. Bacon is most well-known for his final project, designing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Work on the Whittemore Bridge is coinciding with a $12.8 million project to rehabilitate the Route 68 bridge, which connects Bridge Street and Prospect Street. The two bridge projects have made life for people driving in Naugatuck difficult at times, especially when the Route 68 bridge was closed for work.

The Route 68 bridge project, which started in April 2016, is still underway. One side of the bridge is currently open to two-way traffic. The work is expected to continue until November.

The project is overseen by the state DOT. A message left with the DOT seeking information on the project’s status wasn’t returned.