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Bridge tenders: TV helps ward off tedium

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published May 08. 2013 4:00AM

I heard from a reader not long ago who wrote to complain about a DirecTV dish installed on top of the control tower of the highway bridge over the Niantic River.

Wasn't this a good example, the reader suggested, of the sloth of state workers, watching TV while on the clock?

I have to admit that, at first blush, it does seem a bit indulgent of the state, paying employees to watch TV. How many workers anywhere get to kick back and relax in front of their favorite shows while being paid to work?

Couldn't they be assigned to do something else at their stations, with all that free time?

But when I asked a state Department of Transportation spokesman about it, I came around to understanding the basic logic behind television for bridge tenders.

It also makes you wonder: Is being a bridge tender one of the best jobs in the world, or one of the worst?

In the case of the Niantic River bridge, you spend your work shift in a control room tower with windows on four sides and spectacular views up Niantic Bay and down Long Island Sound. There are some responsibilities, but not many.

Long stretches of cold days, or cold nights, for that matter, can go by without the bridge ever opening.

That leaves a lot of time for reading, puzzles or, yes, television.

Some people might like the isolation. Others would go crazy. There are no gatherings around the office water fountain. But then there is no boss at hand, either.

Without the television, the lack of other human contact for such long periods of time could actually be distracting and keep tenders from being alert, the DOT spokesman suggested when I asked.

Indeed, he passed along a letter from a Mystic bridge tender, who made the case for continuing cable television at that control tower back in 1989.

"We feel the cable TV helps keep us alert during the late evening and early morning hours of our watch," the bridge tender wrote to a supervisor.

The state did not then pay the cable TV bill in Mystic, and it doesn't pay for the DirecTV in Niantic, according to the DOT.

The bridge operators, who are paid from $17.23 to $21.82 an hour, including a fair amount of overtime, pay the TV bill themselves.

I might be interested in giving it a try, and maybe catching up on all those lost episodes of "Downton Abbey."

It could certainly be fun, for a while.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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