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SHOP President Offers Update On Sandy Hook Center Pedestrian Bridge



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Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity (SHOP) is going to do everything possible to make the return of a pedestrian foot bridge over the Pootatuck River in Sandy Hook Center happen.

Mike Burton, president of the Sandy Hook business group, said the bridge is too important to too many people to have its recent removal become permanent.

A steel pedestrian bridge installed 40 years ago to carry foot traffic over the Pootatuck River in Sandy Hook Center was removed March 25. Access to the bridge had been blocked for 14 months, after corrosion led to fencing being installed at each end to prevent people from using it. Officials had hoped to pull up the bridge to assess the level of repairs it would need, but that plan changed when rusted pieces of the bridge began crumbling off the structure when work began that Monday morning.

Instead, within hours, the small bridge that spanned the Pootatuck for four decades was cut into sections and most was readied for scrap.

First Selectman Jeff Capeci said that week the bridge will not be replaced. Its original intent was to create safe passage between Washington Avenue and the rear parking lot of 100 Church Hill Road, and access to businesses there, well before sidewalks and streetscaping were added to the business district.

Speaking with The Newtown Bee recently, Burton said SHOP “is committed to getting that bridge replaced.”

The fundraising won’t begin for months, he cautioned, but that will also allow time for research to take place.

“This calendar year we’ll be done with Heritage Park fundraising,” he said of a park and trail being done along Glen Road. “Then we’ll move into fundraising to replace the bridge. We are committed to moving into fundraising for that next year.

“It’s our hope that we can partner with the Town,” he added. “We’re still exploring the cost aspect, and we’re exploring the need for accessibility or not with the new bridge.”

The arch design of the original bridge is the least expensive design for a bridge, but there have been questions about whether that is ADA approved, or even if a bridge needs to be ADA approved if safe, wide sidewalks are now in place within the area.

The original 40-foot-long pedestrian bridge was made possible, according to Burton, through fundraising by SHOP. In March he told this newspaper the bridge “was to be maintained by the Town of Newtown. It was installed in the mid 1980s to increase parking for the Sandy Hook Post Office,” which at the time was operating at 4 Washington Avenue.

Prior to the installation of sidewalks in Sandy Hook Center, the area to navigate along Washington Avenue and Church Hill Road, around the river, was unsafe for pedestrians to walk. The bridge provided that safe passage between the post office and subsequent businesses operating at that location and nearby.

Commenting on the Facebook post that shared the story about the bridge’s removal, Ricky Terrill agreed with Burton’s recollection. Terrill’s mother Ann was the SHOP president 40 years ago, he said.

“The history behind the bridge was that our post office was on the corner of [Route] 34/Church Hill and parking was very limited or dangerous if you parked on the curb and ran in, so the bridge was often used,” he wrote in part on April 3.

Terrill recalled working with his father, among others, to pour the bridge’s concrete foundation.

“It’s been such a part of Sandy Hook I’d hate to see it not replaced,” he noted.

Burton in March said SHOP handled the labor and installation of the bridge.

The Legislative Council during a June 2023 meeting said the bridge was installed through a joint effort from the Town and SHOP.

“The agreement was the Town would maintain it in perpetuity,” Burton said.

“There was an agreement to take the bridge out, and take it to Parks & Rec and have a structural engineer check it, try to fix it, and return it,” he said in March. “We knew this has been coming for almost a year. We just didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it turned out to be.”

The bridge was closed to public use in early 2023 after repair work led to the discovery of unsafe conditions. When several floorboards were pulled up for replacement, the underlying metal infrastructure was found to be corroding.

The Town last year and Capeci reiterated in March that a new bridge at that location would need to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The arch design, Burton explained recently, is the cheapest way to build a pedestrian bridge because its structural members can be lighter. Its design, however, “does not meet handicapped accessibility requirements because it’s arch is too steep.”

If the replacement bridge does need to be handicapped accessible, he continued, “it will need heavier structural members, which means a higher cost.”

He and others are researching, he said, the requirements. There are already, he pointed out, handicapped parking spaces in lots on both sides of the former bridge.

“If you’re handicapped and you want to go to the liquor store, for instance, you’re not gonna park at the old post office, you’re going to park next to the store,” he said.

Beyond the fact that fundraising won’t begin until next year, there is no time line in place yet for this project. Accessibility requirements need to be determined, which will then allow SHOP to figure the cost of the project. A heavier bridge would mean the abutments from the original bridge will have to be changed.

“If we can go with an arch bridge again, we can use the same abutments,” Burton said. “If we have to change the width or the style, we’ll have to change the abutments.”

One thing already working in SHOP’s favor is the riverbank itself.

“My recollection is, there’s a ledge on both sides of the bank,” he said. “Building it on ledge is better than having to go down 10 feet into the riverbed.”

Burton has heard from many people who want to see the bridge return.

“I’ve had a lot of phone calls from residents, a lot of residents, who said they would support our effort to get the bridge back,” he said.

Comments on The Bee’s Facebook page called the bridge everything from “an icon” to “a little bit of history.” Some expressed outrage at its removal, although most understood the reasoning. Many indicated hope for a replacement.

In a letter to the editor last week, Sandy Hook native Sarah Taylor wrote of following the news of the bridge’s removal “with a bit of a heavy heart.” She shared memories of the bridge, from having her engagement photo taken there to pushing children in strollers and adults in wheelchairs over the span, “all ages appreciating the view it offered.”

Like others, Taylor said she hopes SHOP, local Town leaders and others will be able to work together for a replacement.

“It is the perfect bridge for the village I was so lucky to call home for so long,” she wrote, “and I hope that it will return for future generations.”


Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

Mike Burton stands behind fencing on the western bank of the Pootatuck River in Sandy Hook Center. A steel footbridge that spanned the river, connecting the parking lot where Burton is standing to the parking lot at 4 Washington Avenue, was removed in late March after officials found it was rotting beyond repair. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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1 comment
  1. bw.reloconsult@snet.net says:

    A lot of things have changed in Sandy Hook shopping area. The old bridge was no longer needed, the town helped create parking , brick sidewalks and classic street lights were added, and zoning was adjusted to add housing. Spending money on a bridge from nowhere makes no sense, focus on things that will add to the viability of the Sandy Hook Center.

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