Residents settling into new routine: a shuttle across the Gold Star Bridge
New London — Joe Proctor normally rides his bike every day across the Gold Star Bridge to get between New London and his job in Groton.
But with the sidewalk on the bridge closed for a 10-week repair project that began last Monday, he now has a different routine: taking the shuttle bus across the bridge. For him, the shuttle shaves off 15 minutes from his commute and is cooler on hot summer days than biking.
"This is better," Proctor said. "You get there faster."
With the Gold Star Bridge walkway shut down for the duration of the weekslong repair project, some residents, who would take the sidewalk to get to work, do errands or other activities, instead are settling into a new schedule of taking the shuttle as their means of crossing the Thames River.
The shuttle bus, which the state Department of Transportation contracted with Southeast Area Transit to provide, runs daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and stops near the closed entrance to the walkway off of Williams Street in New London, and near the two closed entrances in Groton, at Bridge Street and Riverview Avenue.
SEAT General Manager Michael Carroll said there were 200 boardings in the first week, according to a preliminary count. On Thursday afternoon and early evening, as many as three people were riding the bus at any time, many of them cyclists who placed their bicycles on the shuttle's bike rack, which can hold two bikes at time.
After finishing a job in Waterford and biking to New London, Wayne Moniz, a Groton resident who does gardening and landscaping work, placed his bright yellow bike on the shuttle's bike rack and rode the bus from New London back to Groton. He said that without the shuttle, he'd either have to take a cab — a $20 cost — or go up Route 32 and circle all the way around — about a four-hour bike ride. He said there's always room to place the bike on the rack, and if not, people take their bike onto the bus.
Bob Buckingham, who works at Pfizer, picked up the bus in Groton and placed his bike in the rack for the ride to New London.
"I think it's been great," said Buckingham, who has taken the shuttle most days since it started on Aug. 13, picking it up in its first run from New London at 6 a.m. and then later in Groton in the afternoon.
He said he cycles as many days as he possibly can in the spring, summer and fall, which enables him to not put exhaust in the air and save gas money — and he loves being outdoors. While he loses about a mile and a half of his bike ride with the closure of the pathway, he gets to be outdoors for the rest of his ride. He said he was glad the state did something, rather than just shut down the walkway and not offer a means for people to travel across.
Maggie Redfern and Andrew Lopez, New London residents who both work at Connecticut College, took the shuttle across the bridge for the first time on Thursday afternoon and then planned to ride their bikes in the nice weather to reach Mystic for a movie.
"We are as excited for the movie as we are to ride the shuttle bus," Lopez said after they had placed their bikes on the shuttle's bike rack and taken seats on the bus.
Redfern said she and Lopez — who don't have cars and bike to work year-round unless it snows — like exploring different transportation options. While they couldn't take the shuttle on their way home since their movie ended at 8:30 p.m., they planned to take the 108 bus back. Redfern said the 6 p.m. end time for the shuttle is very early, and it seems like it would make sense for the bus to run later.
Mark Guinn, who took the bus from Groton to New London early Thursday evening, said he cycles two to three days a week to commute between his home in Niantic and his job at Pfizer.
Guinn, who has a car, said having the option of the shuttle is nice and goes "above and beyond," but he said he knows some people walk to work and don't have another option, so the shuttle is really important.
DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said it's important to have the shuttle so the repair project doesn't sever access to Groton and New London for those without cars.
"Cutting off access to bicyclists and pedestrians, with no other alternatives nearby, would have been an unreasonable and unfair hardship for some," he said. "So far, the feedback we have received has been constructive and appreciative that we have partnered with SEAT to provide the service."
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