Surrounded by a Sunoco gas station, Carlos’s Fruits and Vegetables and the overgrown grass of a front yard, the intersection of Ferry and River streets in Fair Haven bustles Monday afternoon. The sounds of rap, rock and reggaeton music blare from open car windows as neighbors stop to chat outside their homes and shops. Just a block away, though, the contrast is stark. The fenced-off Ferry Street Bridge looms at the end of street: no music, no hustle-and-bustle and certainly no crossings.
At least until Saturday.
The Ferry Street Bridge will reopen after six years this Saturday, bringing back what residents and shop-owners said is a lifeline to the neighborhood of Fair Haven. Flanked on one side by the Mill River and the Quinnipiac on the other, the neighborhood has been somewhat isolated from the rest of New Haven since 2002 when the Ferry Street Bridge, one of the main arteries in and out of the neighborhood, closed for “rehabilitation.”
City Engineer Richard Miller, the driving force behind the project, said the Ferry Street Bridge was closed in 2002 when the city identified the bridge as structurally unsafe. Bridges have been built on Ferry Street since the early 1900s, beginning with a simple swing bridge, followed by one built in the Art Deco style and finally the modern drawbridge. Multiple lanes of traffic will be able to cross the Quinnipiac while boats can pass safely underneath.
But work on the bridge did not begin until late 2006, only a few months after New Haven Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro commented in a statement that “access across the Quinnipiac River has been degraded since the Ferry Street Bridge’s closure four years ago.”
Through the efforts of DeLauro, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the community at large, the city was able, by 2006, to attain the federal and state money necessary to fund the repairs over about three years.
Two years after the start of construction, the bridge is set to open. At 1 p.m. this Saturday, the grand reopening will take place, complete with ribbon cutting and a ceremonious run across the bridge.
Fair Haven residents and workers interviewed near the bridge Monday expressed mixed reactions to the reopening.
For the last six years, shop and restaurant owners said they have felt the negative effects of the bridge’s absence.
When asked whether the bridge’s closure has affected her livelihood, a clothing store owner, who declined to give her name, responded, “Yes of course it has. It cuts my business in half.”
While she does not have any grand plans for the reopening of the street, she said she hopes that the completion of the project will restore her business to its former level.
The Sunoco station has especially felt the effects of the bridge’s absence.
“[Before it closed] we were busy with everyone coming in and out,” said Maher, a station employee. “We had all types of customers.”
He went on to explain that because Fair Haven is now so far out of the way for many commuters coming from outside the city, most drivers choose to fill their cars at other gas stations, overlooking the one on Ferry Street. The next closest bridge to Fair Haven is the Grand Street Bridge about six blocks away. The bridge’s closure also means that Maher has to drive an additional mile and a half each way to get to and from work.
Dave Henninger, an employee of MLK Business Forms on the opposite corner of the street, said many commuters are forced to drive up to three miles out of the way via overly congested bridges and detours.
But Adrienne, a senior citizen and recent stroke victim who has lived in Fair Haven for the last five years, said, like some other residents, she is not excited about the bridge’s reopening. A resident of an apartment building a block or so from the Ferry Street Bridge, she said she is worried about the increase in traffic.
“[There are] drawbacks with progress,” she said. “But people want the bridge open.”