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Rehabbed Mystic drawbridge leaves businesses frustrated

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published July 09. 2013 4:00AM
Sunday malfunction put village at standstill

Mystic - Ross Mandell said he's so irritated by what's happened in downtown Mystic, "it's all I can do not to scream."

The owner of Bartleby's Café said the downtown beautification project nearly bankrupted him, and now the Mystic drawbridge won't go down.

The drawbridge, recently rehabilitated by the state at a cost of $14.8 millon, was unable to fully close for about 3½ hours Sunday evening, preventing cars from crossing the Mystic River.

"I heard a loud bang when it went up or down," said Dean Quinones, who was working at The Spice & Tea Exchange Sunday evening.

Employees in shops near the drawbridge said about 15 to 20 pedestrians waited on one side of the bridge, while in many cases, their cars waited on the other. One store manager had to ride across the river in a small boat to get home.

The bridge sides met unevenly so there was no gap for people to fall through, but the center wouldn't fully close, so it wasn't flat. Cars and pedestrians were told not to cross for at least an hour, and the number waiting grew as time went on, employees said.

Then after about an hour and a half, tourists worried about catching ferries or getting home after the holiday weekend began ducking under the red and white signal bars and running across anyway, employees said.

State Department of Transportation workers said on Sunday that the problem, first reported at 5:10 p.m., was an electrical issue. A further explanation was unavailable Monday.

Groton Town police officers said pedestrians were allowed to cross the bridge "at their own risk" most of the evening. The bridge span re-opened about 8:30 p.m.

Store owners said the problem appeared to be a new safety barrier installed at either end of the drawbridge to prevent cars from driving over the edge and ending up in the water when the two sides are open.

Mandell said Sunday's situation was terrible.

"Who wants to get stuck out here for three hours and not be able to move?" he said. "All the people who work down here, who own stores down here, this is their livelihood."

Cheryl Robdau, owner of Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, said she believes the drawbridge has been stuck at least four times.

"It's like the whole town clears out. There's a mass exodus," she said.

This is the second malfunction of the drawbridge within a month. On June 10, the drawbridge was closed for 90 minutes following an afternoon malfunction that temporarily backed up traffic and forced detours in Groton and Stonington

Robdau said customers kept stopping in and asking what they should do, because they'd never been in that situation before.

She said the issue is not just the lost business, but the risk that people will see the drawbridge as a hassle rather than a historic landmark.

Brian Thomson, manager of The Spice & Tea Exchange, said he loves the drawbridge and finds it a tremendous draw. But he said he hasn't dealt with years of work projects downtown because he is a recent arrival.

He said the latest is he heard the drawbridge whistle doesn't make the noise it used to and must be replaced.

d. straszheim@theday.com

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