When State Route 72 was installed through the center of New Britain in the late 1970s, rapid access to the adjacent interstate system was the driving force behind construction. At that time, the fact that the sunken roadway ran straight through the middle of the city was a secondary concern. Though several bridges were installed to reconnect the now separate neighborhoods, connectivity to the downtown areas was irrevocably damaged. The end result was a city divided by a highway installed to serve it.
Five years ago the City opened a new CTFastrak station and high-end bus rapid transit service connecting to the region. But the CTFastrak station was located on one side of a state-owned bridge that separated two areas: the City’s vibrant Little Poland neighborhood and downtown New Britain. Both areas were hubs of activity, but they were separated by the high-speed, five-lane overpass of Route 72, which was neither walkable nor bikeable. The City recognized that connecting these two neighborhoods with an iconic bridge located at the nexus of regional bus rapid transit and local bus stations would create the conditions for transit-oriented development (TOD).
The City recognized they had a unique opportunity to do something different. New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart originally visualized incorporating public art into one of the Route 72 overpasses to create a public space that draws people to cross the highway and shelters them from the highway bustle and noise. Public Works Director Mark Moriarty, PE was the project’s champion from the beginning stages. His commitment to public engagement, placemaking, art, and architecture, as well as his willingness to innovate through complete streets design, were key reasons this project advanced. Design development began with a multi-session charrette process and collaboration among design team members (Svigals + Partners, Pirie Associates, Richter & Cegan, Inc.), city officials (the mayor, Mark Moriarty, PE, and City Engineer Rob Trottier, PE), and other project stakeholders on the Project Advisory Committee.
The charrettes were spirited and the enthusiasm built as the goal came into focus. The charge was to create an iconic structure that spoke to the history of the city, while embracing a bright future and remaining uniquely New Britain. The City’s motto is industria implet alveare et melle fruitur, which translates to “industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey”. The beehive theme runs throughout the City, appearing on its seal and lending its name to its baseball team, the New Britain Bees. It was decided that this bee/beehive theme would be the inspiration for this design of this signature project.
Beehive Bridge was designed to be noticed. From a distance, onlookers are shown a unique artwork of panels that mimic a honeycomb form. These panels are varying shades of translucent orange and are set within aluminum framing. They are formed in a curving pattern made to look like a giant honeycomb and to mimic the flight of a bumble bee. While inspired by nature, these panels also protect from it, serving as sun screens and reducing both wind and noise. These walls are installed to a minimum of 8 feet above the deck (as required by the CTDOT) and reach a height of 16 feet in some places. As the sun moves across the sky, sunlight drifts through the panels, creating changing patterns of shadows on the streetscape. These parabolic walls are lit by programmable LED lighting for a dramatic nighttime effect. The bridge is anchored by large, whimsical bees at all four corners, and a large “hive” sculpture (pedestrian enclosure) was created in the center.
Wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and a reduced number of vehicle travel lanes were key factors in the design because this bridge was meant to be inclusive for all users. The City wanted to encourage pedestrian and bike travel. The exiting five lanes were reduced to three lanes, creating space for bike lanes, wider sidewalks (growing from a 10-foot width to as much as 21-feet-wide), trees, and plantings. The sidewalks were edged with a 5-foot-wide brick paver strip embedded in the concrete adjacent to granite curbs. While creating walkable space was desired, the impact on traffic was a concern. Fuss & O’Neill created multiple traffic models and the City smartly striped the new traffic lanes a full year prior to construction, proving to travelers that this traffic calming would not adversely affect their commute. This road diet was extended down Main Street, creating a safer district.
The result is a singular bridge that balances form and function, while uniquely representing New Britain.
Both economic development and connectivity were drivers for this project. The Connecticut Main Street Center advocated, and contributed early financing, for a TOD at 99 West Main Street, within walking distance of CTFastrak. Under construction is Columbus Commons, a $58M mixed-use TOD with 160 new apartment units, which is a short walk from the Beehive Bridge. Pedestrian use has seen significant increase, and the ribbon cutting was a community party. The bridge was a sea of smiling faces. Project partners who had been emotionally invested over the past six years brought their families to watch their passion project realized. The community showed up en masse, and brought along the high school band, Girl Scout troops, local breweries, and food trucks. This bridge that was designed to be singular is truly bringing people together.
The City of New Britain
Mayor Erin Stewart
Mark Moriarty, PE
Rob Trottier, PE
Svigals + Partners
Pirie Associates Architects
Richter & Cegan, Inc.
Martin Laviero Contractor, Inc.