Sunday, September 13, 2015
By James Lomuscio
Click here for PDF of CDOT slideshow
UPDATE In an unusual Sunday announcement, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said today he has been talking for at least two months with state officials about rehabilitation or replacement of Westport’s historic Bridge Street Bridge.
The 1884-built bridge, whose formal name is the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge, has “severely deficient” structural problems and is among the state’s most dangerous, Marpe said, quoting preliminary findings of the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT).
Residents have seen state engineers examining the bridge this summer, touching off rumors that CDOT was seeking to revive earlier plans to replace the bridge. It is Connecticut’s oldest, surviving moveable hand-cranked swing bridge and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
But Marpe and other town officials have been silent about the rumors until today’s announcement. He did say, however, that he had “informed a number of the town’s elected officials last week” about the CDOT preliminary findings.
Asked about the unusual timing of today’s announcement, Marpe said: “I realize that tomorrow is a religious holiday for many of our citizens. The intent was to release it tomorrow, but in some cases not everyone would have a chance to read it, so I thought it would be better to get it out today to make sure all of our citizens were able to understand what was happening ...with regards to the Bridge Street Bridge.”
One member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), John Suggs, District 5, suggested his queries to state officials might have been behind the unusual timing of today’s announcement.
In a posting on the local blog 06880, he said it was his repeated queries to state officials that resulted in his obtaining a copy of the CDOT report on Friday. He said he then shared it with fellow representatives and was told by Marpe that it would be released Monday.
Marpe said the preliminary “Rehabilitation Study Report” was developed via meetings with local officials during July and August.
“At this time, no plans of any kind have been suggested by the (CDOT) with regard to what the rehabilitation-replacement options might be,” Marpe said.
“We have been assured by the (CDOT) that a variety of rehabilitation options will be studied.”
Marpe’s announcement was accompanied by a copy of an undated CDOT 11-page slide presentation entitled “Bridge Rehabilitation Program.” It contained 17 pictures of the bridge, many of them close-ups of damage from impacts and deterioration.
According to CDOT, a November 2014 inspection showed the state-owned Route 136 bridge is functionally obsolete based on its narrowness and has a high accident rate, placing it in the top 15 percent of the state’s most dangerous.
The agency said it has rest piers that could fail within one to two years; has lost 50 percent of the mortar on its rest piers “with voids up to four feet deep between stones;” has severe rusting and corrosion on its underside, and has a non-load bearing truss.
The historic span was last rehabilitated during 1989 through 1991. During the work, a temporary bridge was installed next to it that many residents then and now feel could be of a kind that CDOT hopes to make permanent.
“At both the July and August meetings, I emphasized the importance of retaining the iconic aspects of the bridge’s clearly defined superstructure along with its role in the history of the Saugatuck community,” said Marpe.
He said the bridge also plays an important role in limiting “the type and speed of traffic that can travel through the Saugatuck neighborhood, on Bridge Street and Greens Farms Road, and that it serves as a source of traditional holiday decoration for the entire area thanks to the efforts of Al’s Angels.”
“I was gratified to know that the state was aware of the bridge’s historic importance to the town and had included this important aspect at the onset of its planning efforts,” he added.
Marpe said Mark McMillian, an architectural historian and a National Register specialist, will be working on the project.
“As I informed a number of the town’s elected officials last week, the safety of the bridge and the people who use it as well as the related impact of bridge traffic on the safety of Westport neighborhoods are my primary concerns,” Marpe said.
“At the same time, I am very sensitive to the historic aspects of this iconic bridge and its significance to many Westporters.
“I am satisfied that the state understands and is seriously taking these concerns into consideration,” he added.
Posted 09/13/15 at 07:55 PM
I believe rehabilitation is the best choice for several reasons; first, it’s an historic bridge listed on the National Register with a structural steel truss design that would, in all probability, not be replicated. Second, a replacement bridge would also need to open (allowing boats to navigate the river) and would most likely look similar in design to the Post Road Bridge, (a flat roadbed design without any ornamentation above) opening in the center from hinge points on each bank. True, the new bridge would be constructed with a wider roadbed but I question whether truck traffic should be permitted on the existing bridge to begin with. If residents want to see Saugatuck maintain its village feel, this bridge should be rehabilitated and a campaign to preserve the icon should be launched.