Ten years ago, challenging incumbent Republican Chris Shays, Jim Himes made his bones in Bridgeport barbecuing Shays on his failure to deliver bucks for a replacement drawbridge over the Pequonnock River to reconnect the East Side with Downtown forcing headquarters for the city’s Fire Department to navigate a longer route for responses after the bridge got stuck open in 1997. Shays crashed the bridge press conference of Himes, which only served to turn an okay story into a front-page event benefiting the challenger. Himes prevailed in the 2008 Barack Obama presidential tsunami led by a massive urban turnout. Himes negotiated the money to remove the stuck-open bridge, but the expense of a new one is another story. On Monday Himes assembled with city and state officials to declare they are closer, courtesy of a House vote that now needs Senate approval.
In the decade since Himes’ election every Republican opponent has taken him to task for not securing money for a new bridge that had a price tag of upwards of $40 million. The legislation passed by the House lessens the cost of the bridge to what city officials maintain is a more manageable $20 million because that section of the Pequonnock River has been deemed non-navigable, so the old drawbridge location can be replaced with a less expensive fixed structure.
At Monday’s news conference (see video above) Himes pointed out this is not a done deal, but a major step in reconnecting that portion of the East Side to Downtown. The city has earmarked $12 million in capital money toward the $20 million price tag of a new fixed bridge. It is counting on $8 million in federal funds to make the balance happen.
Officials conducted the news conference on Crescent Avenue on the East Side portion of the river to illustrate the disconnection from Downtown hammering home both the economic impact and public safety net a new bridge would bring.
Himes is running for reelection and Mayor Joe Ganim, also present at the event, is running for governor with a mayoral reelection next year if his underdog gubernatorial run dissipates. The Congress Street bridge, or lack of one, is a convenient spot for a photo opportunity.
Why, after 20 years, is this still a favorite vote-for-me location?
It all depends on a city’s priorities. During Bill Finch’s eight mayoral years the push was for federal dough for the Steelpointe Harbor redevelopment area of the East Side as well as Finch’s desire for a second city train station not far away, and still a long way, if it happens.
Congressional representatives, be it Republican Shays or Democrat Himes, tend to say okay folks, what’s your priority, only so much infrastructure dough to go around.
And that’s the way these things work.