The Church Street South Extension Bridge, which extends over the rail yard at Union Station to connect Union Avenue to Sargent Drive, will open this December, more than six months ahead of schedule.

City officials said Thursday that the new route will allow Church Street to act as a gateway to downtown New Haven and better connect the area to the waterfront. The project is costing the state of Connecticut $33 million.

“The key is that you have a lot of ways to get in and out of the center of the city,” Scott Healy ’96, the executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, said.

The bridge, constructed by O & G Industries, Inc., is 1,280 ft. long and 53 ft. wide, with one lane of traffic in each direction and two bike lanes. David Oneglia, the company’s president, said the 880 ton truss of the bridge was built on the ground and then picked up and placed over the yard in one motion to avoid interfering with train traffic.

Oneglia said this project was free of many of the pitfalls of his company’s usual construction jobs. Often traffic congestion makes delivering supplies difficult, working hours are restricted, and his workers face the constant danger of traffic just a few feet away, he said.

“It was a big relief for a lot of the guys, to be able to go to work and work like a gentleman and not like an animal,” Oneglia said.

Oneglia said construction on the bridge is almost complete and would be ready for traffic in another week or two but that the bridge will not open for another two months — about six months ahead of schedule. He said his company had finished the job early because the necessary equipment was already at the rail yard from a previous job. In addition, he said, they received good cooperation from rail officials and others at the site.

New Haven Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 said the bridge will connect the waterfront to downtown and will join the Hill section of the city to Long Wharf. Calling the bridge “a pretty significant tool,” he said it should bring substantial development to the area over the next 10 years, yielding business and residential growth to Church Street, and connecting water, rail and road transportation in the city.

One other major advantage of the bridge, Healy said, is that it will connect downtown and the new IKEA store, scheduled to be completed by June 16, 2004. Healy said the store is “a huge regional draw” that will bring people in from as far away as Springfield and the suburbs of New York City. Healy said the bridge could also provide a more viable path for bikers.

Connecting these two parts of New Haven has been on the city’s agenda for over a century. Healy said the Elm City has been looking to create a boulevard to the waterfront since 1900.

Fernandez said New Haven’s Ninth Square was actually on the harbor when the city was originally founded. Over time, the area was filled in and the waterfront receded to its current location.

“Really it’s kind of going back to go forward,” Fernandez said.