CT Insider: New Haven’s Grand Avenue Bridge Reopening Early, Under Budget

January 14, 2022

Link to CT Insider Article

NEW HAVEN, Mark Zaretsky / Hearst Connecticut Media — Old-timers in Fair Haven Heights and Fair Haven remember past nightmare closures of the ancient Grand Avenue Bridge that lasted years longer than they were supposed to and cost millions of dollars more than anyone imagined.

Not this time.

When the vintage 1898 swing bridge, which has been closed now for 18 months while its inner workings got a $28 million overhaul, reopens at 7 a.m. Jan. 18, it will be more like a pleasant dream: it’s reopening a couple of months early and a bit under budget.

“This bridge connects neighborhoods,” said Fair Haven Heights resident Ed Ozyck. “I think people have missed that tremendously. I’m really looking forward to the opening of it.”

New Haven’s vintage-1898 Grand Avenue Bridge, which connects the Fair Haven Heights and Fair Haven neighborhoods, will reopen on Jan. 18, 2022, following a $28 million reconstruction project — a couple of months early and under budget.

New Haven’s vintage-1898 Grand Avenue Bridge, which connects the Fair Haven Heights and Fair Haven neighborhoods, will reopen on Jan. 18, 2022, following a $28 million reconstruction project — a couple of months early and under budget.

The bridge, which connects residents in Fair Haven to their neighbors in Fair Haven Heights, even got a makeover in the process, trading in its longtime basic black color scheme for a new shade of pale “Oregon D.O.T.” green — chosen by the community.

The city and other stakeholders are going to throw a neighborhood party from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday featuring a bridge walk and performances to celebrate its return.

“I am super happy. I can’t be more pleased that they finished on time,” said Alder Rosa Ferraro Santana, D-13, who lives in and represents Fair Haven Heights.

So what happened?

“It was a big, complicated job in the middle of a vastly unprecedented time for us,” said City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, who gets much of the credit for it, although he’s quick to share the credit with city Chief Structural Engineer Zachary Shapiro, contractor Mohawk Northeast and bridge designer Hardesty & Hanover.

Zinn credited careful planning with making things run as smoothly as they did.

The process began with a study in 2009 and 2010 to determine what the bridge needed, “then we worked to try to get ahead of it” with the idea to “do the work in a planned fashion, as opposed to having something go wrong” and then responding to it.

“There’s always small issues that come up and that you have to deal with — I mean, we’re working with a bridge where there are parts that go back to the original bridge in 1898,” Zinn said.

But this project went surprisingly smoothly.

“We’ll have it open on the 18th at 7 in the morning,” Zinn said. “We’re doing a bunch of testing right now.”

The project budget included more than $24 million for construction and design, plus another $4 million for inspection. The new bridge has an expected life of at least 30 years.

“I think one of the things that we tried to do … was design a project that eliminated construction risk,” Zinn said. “We made a decision to fully replace the approach spans” — which had been original from 1898.

They also changed the structure types on the bridge decks, “which saved us about 100,000 pounds,” replacing the old, steel decks with “with exodermic decks on the center,” he said. “It’s a composite deck — the lower half is all steel and the upper half is all concrete.”

They replaced the approach spans with new, more modern ones that eliminate the bumps people used to drive over when crossing, and replaced all the electrical and mechanical components, “everything that moves the bridge,” Zinn said.

That included installing splash-proof motors, moving the components higher to accommodate future sea-level rise, completely changing and modernizing the control system — it now gives operators error and feedback messages — and rebuilding and expanding the two sidewalks, widening the southern sidewalk into a “promenade.”

Finally, they installed new lighting and a special polymer overlay on the bridge deck “to preserve the bridge going forward,” Zinn said.

“I’m thrilled. I’m just absolutely thrilled,” Santana said. “Every time a bridge is closed in this area we have to be concerned. … In the past, it caused chaos — that’s what I was trying to avoid.”

Even while the bridge has been closed, folks still could get around by taking Quinnipiac Avenue to Route 80 or the nearby Ferry Street bridge or Water Street into New Haven proper. But “it’ll save so much time — it’s a matter of going down Grand Avenue” to downtown. “It’s a straight shot for me.”

“They did a lot of outreach. Giovanni’s team was wonderful,” Santana said. “They kept the job going on time. There are some punch list items that will need to be done in the spring. But all in all, the city did a great job.”

Not that everything has been perfect.

It’s been a rough couple of years for some business owners that depend on people crossing the bridge, including the Grand Vin wine and spirits store and Ziggy’s Pizza on the Fair Haven Heights side, and Grand Apizza on the Fair Haven side, among others.

“I feel sorry for Grand Vin,” located at 23 E. Grand Ave., Santana said. “He’s been a trooper.”

Grand Vin’s owner for the past 17 years, Ben Tortora, said it’s been tough.

“I can’t wait” for the bridge to reopen, Tortora said. “It’s been a very trying two years. I knew it had to be done … and I know it will be better because of it, but I’ve been stranded here.

“I had 12 clients — 12 that I know of — that walked here every day from that side of the bridge, and those 12 clients spent $165 a day with me,” Tortora said. “So at the end of the week, I was down $1,000. So it affected me greatly. What hurt me the most was there was no help.”

Also, “during 18 months, every time it snows, they never plowed in front of my store,” which for 18 months has been on a dead-end leading up to the bridge. “I feel like a second-class citizen here,” he said.

But “my neighborhood customers are faithful” and “I’m fortunate enough to have a fair amount of business from out of town,” Tortora said. Those accounts kept him afloat, he said. “If I didn’t have my out-of-town clientele supporting me, I probably would have had to close my store.”

Residents on both sides of the bridge can’t wait to get the bridge back open.

“I’m totally thrilled, which I can’t often say,” said Ozyck. “I look at it this way — fate smiled upon Fair Haven and Fair Haven Heights. … All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘We got it done early.’”

He praised Zinn and Shapiro for their efforts.

“Zach Shapiro and Giovanni are just so good at communicating with the neighborhood,” Ozyck said.

Lee Cruz, co-chairman of the Fair Haven Community Management Team, said that while “nothing is perfect … I think it was very nicely executed.” City officials “did a really nice job of keeping us informed. Originally, I think we were looking toward March or April, and here were are.”

Fair Haven Heights resident Patricia Kane, who helped lead the ranked-choice voting process that chose the new color for the bridge, said “it appears they’ve done a great job.

“Unfortunately, it’s taken it’s toll on local business,” Kane said. “We were hoping the city would do more for them.”

But overall, “people here are excited that the bridge will be reopening,” she said.

Kat Calhoun, chairwoman of the Quinnipiac East/Fair Haven Heights Community Management Team, said she has the reopening date on her calendar and “personally, I’m very excited about the reopening.”

She would have preferred a blue bridge, but she’s getting used to the green, she said.

“I missed the bridge,” Calhoun said. “I look forward to it being open — and I think everyone I know looks forward to it reopening.”