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Build the bridge to Fort Trumbull

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published August 04. 2013 4:00AM   Updated August 04. 2013 2:45PM

The 2011 study by the Yale Urban Design Workshop of the development prospects for the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London practically shouted its recommendation that the historic peninsula be connected to the downtown.

"The importance of this link for the development and public accessibility of Fort Trumbull cannot be exaggerated, as it will link residents and employees to the downtown, the train station and ferry pier, as well as making the waterfront continuously accessible from the Parade to Fort Trumbull State Park."

What the Yale designers didn't know in 2011, of course, is that a bridge would also link the peninsula rich in development potential to the waterfront park that will surround the new National Coast Guard Museum.

Indeed, the proposal for the new museum on the waterfront downtown puts a couple of exclamation points after the recommendation by the Yale designers for a bridge.

This is a no-brainer.

The urban designers, escorted into the city by Republican City Councilor Adam Sprecace, did the kind of thorough and engaging study they are renowned for, including the community in the process, for a plan that would help New London move beyond the national shame the city inflicted on itself, taking peoples' homes by eminent domain for development that never occurred.

Now, with the downtown museum in development, the bridge connecting the two disparate pieces of the waterfront would help them complement each other.

The museum could certainly help drive development to the Fort Trumbull peninsula. And the existing state park and any new development there could improve the experience of the city for museum visitors, with the museum anchoring one end of a long waterfront esplanade and the magnificent 19th century fort the other.

The waterfront park infrastructure on both ends is in place. The only piece missing is at the boat channel that is now crossed only by an Amtrak railroad swing bridge.

The Yale designers liked the idea of creating a new pedestrian bridge across the channel that would stand outside the Amtrak bridge and become a distinct icon for the city.

"The bridge should also provide a distinctive and dramatic image," they wrote.

Ever practical, the designers also noted that a new pedestrian bridge could instead be connected to the existing Amtrak swing bridge.

Putting a pedestrian walkway on the railroad bridge would certainly be the cheaper alternative. It would also solve the problem of how the pedestrian bridge would open or how it could be tall enough to accommodate boat traffic.

Amtrak has long resisted the notion of adding a walkway to its bridge, saying it wouldn't be safe.

And yet it is hard to imagine there isn't a way, in the 21st century, for engineers to design a safe walkway that would become part of the railroad bridge, opening at the same time for boat traffic.

A lot of political will, from the city's mayor and Connecticut's governor, to the state's two U.S. senators, has been forged to help make the National Coast Guard Museum a reality.

How hard could it be to put some of that political pressure on Amtrak, to make sure a bridge gets built.

The governor has pledged $20 million in state money toward the $80 million Coast Guard museum project, for infrastructure improvements.

A signature pedestrian bridge might eat up too much of that $20 million for infrastructure improvements. But why not at least price it out.

Adding a walkway to the railroad bridge, even with all kinds of safety enhancements, might turn out to be reasonably priced and well within the project's infrastructure budget.

I would also urge city councilors to pay more attention to this important development, the city's future, and less to micromanaging the police department and its police dog program.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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