Like many American cities, New Britain, Connecticut, has a highway problem. Thanks to the automobile-centric planning of the 20th Century, the busy Route 72 cuts straight through the city, tearing apart any semblance of a cohesive urban fabric. Now local leaders are trying to right this urban planning wrong.
As part of New Britain’s larger urbanist agenda to create a more pedestrian-friendly city, there are plans to top a Route 72 overpass with a colorful and sculptural form intended to lure people on foot over the highway toward the downtown core. It was designed by the civil engineering consulting firm Fuss & O’Neill, Pirie Associates Architects, and Svigals + Partners, all of which are based in Connecticut.
Chris Bockstael of Svigals + Partners said the project’s distinctive honeycomb form is an extension of the imagery seen in the town’s motto: “Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey.” It also plays into New Britain’s working-class, manufacturing heritage by incorporating brass and copper elements, though most of the structure is aluminum to reduce weight, per DOT requirements.
The overpass project is not intended to create a new public space perched above the highway. It aims to make the experience of getting to downtown more enticing—or at least less unpleasant. “Right now, this bridge is over 300 feet long and it’s wide and loud,” said Bockstael. “There is no protection from weather, it just becomes this barren, desolate strip.” The new beehive-like structure will provide shelter from the elements and present an architectural element to be enjoyed by drivers and pedestrians alike. To visually connect the new overpass to downtown, the paving materials and lighting fixtures seen around the city are incorporated into the design as well.
The design includes other pedestrian-friendly changes, such as new plantings and it reduces the five-lane roadway that crosses the bridge down to two lanes. Some structural work will be done on the existing overpass to repair wear and tear from years of service.
The design for the overpass is still in the works as the city tries to secure the necessary funds to complete it. The money is expected to come from the city coffers as well as state and federal sources. If the needed funds are secured, the project could break ground in about a year.