Category Archives: Local politics

Surprise! Merritt Parkway North Avenue Bridge Work Will Not Be Done By Promised Date Of Late October

In mid-September, the state Department of Transportation installed a temporary traffic light on North Avenue. That allowed alternating 1-way traffic to flow over the Merritt Parkway bridge. Repairs had begun in June, and were expected to be done in late August.

Two things happened almost immediately:

  • Traffic returned to normal.
  • Repair work stopped.

It has not resumed. There were not the promised round-the-clock shifts. There were not 2 shifts. There was not enough 1 guy standing there, putting out orange cones for no good reason at all.

There was no way DOT could meet its 2nd completion date — late October — unless an entire Army Corps of Engineers division parachuted in. And then worked harder than they ever had in history. Including wartime.

Scaffolding underneath the Merritt Parkway bridge -- shown here at North Avenue last month -- has been struck 9 times since mid-June.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, when actual work was being done.

The spectacular lack of work has continued for over a month. Today, the selectman’s office announced that “unforeseen engineering problems” will further delay the repairs.

With winter coming, the new completion date is “expected to shift to” … June 2016.

And not June 1, you eager beavers. No — June 30, 2016.

“Fortunately,” the news release chirps, “the alternating single lane will continue to operate during the winter months.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe — whose office has repeatedly pushed DOT to please get to work — calls the latest development “a major disappointment to us all.”

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

DOT has told the town “there is no alternative solution at this time.” DOT has assured the town that “it will make all accommodations necessary to leave the bridge job site in a condition whereby snow plows can operate in the winter and that the bridge can be safely traversed.”

I ran the press release through Google Translate. Here’s its translation of DOT-talk:

“Hey, shit happens. Don’t worry. Our latest promise is only 10 months later than the original one. See ya! PS: Hope there’s not a lot of snow this winter.”

The press release concludes with DOT’s official explanation for the delay:

Due to numerous accidental strikes by unauthorized oversized vehicles on the Merritt Parkway (Rte. 15), the integrity of the temporary support system became compromised. The Contractor removed the lower support beam of the system on September 13, 2015 to assess the damage and make repairs. A revised design for a different system providing additional clearance was submitted for review to the District on November 2, 2015.

Due to this delay, which pushed temperature sensitive work into the winter season the Department and the Contractor agreed to resume work in the spring, given the additional challenges, risks and costs of winter weather work. The Town of Westport was also informed and coordinated with to ensure local traffic was accommodated for safe passage over the one lane bridge during the winter.

In the next few weeks the Contractor will conduct dowel bar pull-out tests to verify the condition of the concrete and install additional drainage on the North bound right shoulder of Rte. 15 to alleviate water runoff on the roadway and potential icing issues. The jobsite will be secured for the winter and any height restriction signs on Rte. 15 will be removed or covered until construction resumes in the spring of 2016. We estimate a revised completion date prior to June 30, 2016.

DOT logo


Women Represent

Local elections earlier this month were low-key. Most attention focused on the Board of Finance and Planning and Zoning Commission. Both shifted control, from Republican to Democrat.

Our Representative Town Meeting is non-partisan. Still, there was one interesting — and overlooked — result: For the 1st time in memory (probably ever), there are more RTM women than men.

RTM moderator Eileen Flug will be joined by 21 other women this term.

RTM moderator Eileen Flug will be joined by 21 other women this term.

The previous legislative body was split evenly: 18 each. The new RTM has 22 women and 14 men. That’s 60% female.

A local politician wonders if it’s because so many intelligent, highly qualified women have gotten their volunteer starts through the PTA. They’ve learned about town affairs that way — and earned name recognition.

That’s one theory. Perhaps there’s another reason. Or none at all.

The bottom line is: So what?

Westport is blessed with an energetic, dedicated and very competent group of volunteers. They make our RTM go — as well as every other town board and commission.

It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, Democrat or Republican.

As Thanksgiving nears, we owe them all our most profound thanks.

Public Session Set For Bridge Street Bridge

“06880” readers have weighed in — often, and from many perspectives — on what should and should  not be done with the Bridge Street bridge.

Soon, officials will have to listen.

A public meeting on Monday, November 23 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) is the first chance for citizen input on the future of the historic structure (also called the William F. Cribari Bridge)

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Connecticut Department of Transportation officials will offer a progress report on the bridge rehabilitation study report. Citizen participation is encouraged.

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

While the study report is in its early stages, I believe it will be helpful for the DOT to present its preliminary findings with regard to the bridge’s physical condition. This will provide a forum that is earlier than would normally be scheduled by the DOT. Westporters will have an opportunity to express their views on the bridge’s history, significance to the Saugatuck area, and potential rehabilitation options.  All interested parties deserve the chance to engage with the DOT early on in the process, before the DOT begins the critical portion where rehabilitation options and other recommendations are developed.

I want to insure that DOT staff with direct knowledge of the project, as well as the staff expert on the treatment of historical assets, will be available. Recognizing that historical considerations are a concern of many Westporters, I am grateful that the DOT has confirmed that key personnel with direct knowledge of the RSR will attend the session to address questions and concerns.

The project manager, lead project engineers, the consulting firm leading the report, and DOT architectural historian Mark McMillan are scheduled to appear.

Vote Today!

I voted today.

I drove less than a mile to my polling place: the library.

The process was quick and efficient. Volunteers greeted me with smiles, checked my ID and handed me a ballot.

I walked a few feet, filled in the ovals, fed it into the machine, said goodbye to another volunteer, and left. On my way to the parking lot I got a coffee to support Kings Highway Elementary School. (They had both Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks — one more choice on a day full of them.)

LWV my town my vote

Driving home, I realized how easy — and important — the process is.

I thought about voters in the early days of our nation. They had to travel vast distances — by horse, foot, barge, whatever — to cast their votes. They did it.

I thought about the millions of migrants who are fleeing countries all over the globe today. They’re doing it for many reasons — but not living in democracies is high on their lists.

There are many candidates on the ballot today. You can vote for whomever you wish.

There is only one thing you can’t do: Not vote.

For a list of Westport polling places, click here.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

Vote For The Doughboy

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor writes:

The other day, my wife Debbie and I came out of the Westport Historical Society “Talk of the Town” exhibit.

Facing us was a beautiful New England scene: the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green, with spectacular fall foliage behind it. It could have easily appeared on one of those New Yorker covers decades ago.

Doughboy statue - Fred Cantor

As we got closer, I saw right behind the statue another quintessential, timeless New England scene. It could also have been a New Yorker cover: a row of political signs, opposite a row of brilliant orange and yellow trees.

Election signs 2015 - Fred Cantor

(Photos/Fred Cantor)

With Election Day near, the signs in such close proximity to the Doughboy statue seemed so fitting. After all, so many American soldiers over the years gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms and rights — including the right to vote.

That right is something I have never taken for granted. Perhaps something we can all agree on — no matter where we stand on the political spectrum — is that this Tuesday, Westport residents hopefully will continue their tradition of high participation rates at the polls.

Miss The LWV Voters’ Guide? Find It Here!

Every local election year, Westport’s League of Women Voters publishes a Voters’ Guide. Many voters rely on it as a comprehensive view of candidates for every office, from selectman* to dog-catcher.**

This year’s guide was distributed through the Minuteman. Unfortunately, with a recent switch in distribution, the paper failed to deliver the Guide to most Westporters.

LWV my town my voteNot to worry. The 2015 Voters’ Guide — highlighting candidates for the Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Assessment Appeals and RTM — is available on the LWV website (click here).

You can also pick up copies at the Westport Library, Senior Center and town clerk’s office in Town Hall.

The League of Women Voters is non-partisan. It includes men too.

It’s a fantastic organization. They’ve worked hard on this year’s Voters’ Guide. Check it out now!

*not running this year

* * not a real position, but always good for laughs


[UPDATE] Bridge Street Bridge Project Drives Forward

Plans for renovation of the Bridge Street bridge are moving ahead, on at least 2 fronts.

But they may be on a collision course.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is working with the selectman’s office on a public information meeting. Tentatively set for December 7 Set for Monday, November 23 (7:30 pm, Town Hall auditorium), it will be a forum to discuss the history of the 113-year-old bridge, its current deficiencies, and various rehabilitation options and calendars.

The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge.

The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Meanwhile, 4 prominent Westporters asking the state DOT to designate a 1.2-mile section of Route 136 — including the bridge — as a State Scenic Highway. It begins at the Post Road/Compo Road South intersection, and runs through the western end of the bridge, at Riverside Avenue.

Petitioners include 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, former Westport Historic District Commission chair Morley Boyd, RTM member John Suggs and preservationist Wendy Crowther.

The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

If approved, this will be the first State Scenic Highway solely in Westport. All 37.5 miles of the Merritt Parkway — from Greenwich to Stratford — carry that designation too.

The petitioners note history (site of an armed conflict between British regulars and a handful of local militiamen in 1777); the many notable 18th and 19th century buildings lining the route, and the important views of the Saugatuck River shoreline.

Both the bridge itself, and the Gault barn complex at 124 Compo Road South, are listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

The group — along with 8 other RTM members has also requested that the RTM back the scenic highway proposal. Not all signees are from Saugatuck — where the structure (formally know as the William F. Cribari Bridge) is both a beloved icon and a major traffic thoroughfare.

They ask that their petition be discussed at the legislative body’s November 10 meeting.

Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

“The designation will serve to both enhance and safeguard the scale, nature and character of one of Westport’s most attractive travel ways,” the agenda request says.

“The State Scenic Highway designation does not in any way impact adjoining private property,” Morley and Suggs say. “It is solely intended to preserve the character and nature of the state road — including the bridge.”

A historic plaque stands at the corner of the Post Road and South Compo -- the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway route. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Saugatuck River meets Bridge Street, near the western end of the proposed Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The fate of the bridge will be one of Westport’s major stories throughout the rest of this year — and next. To learn more about the State Scenic Highway program, including protections it provides, click here.

A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection -- the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection — the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Bill Meyer Brings Westport Together — Again

Keith Stein sent an email the other day. He wanted me to promote a special event.

Because it honors Bill Meyer, I said “sure!”

Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer

The event is a reception and staged reading of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” It’s a fundraiser for the Westport Community Theatre’s Bill Meyer Scholarship.

Bill — who died last June, at 85 — was an avid WCT supporter, and served as a director.

But he did much, much more. He:

  • was elected 9 times to the RTM
  • founded the Westport Little League softball program
  • served as Y’s Men president and membership chairman
  • was a director of Sunrise Rotary, Senior  Center, First Night, Westport’s AARP chapter, and 2 intercity Bridgeport agencies
  • served on the Saugatuck Congregational Church council
  • helped with Meals on Wheels
  • was a board member of Isaiah House in Bridgeport, which helps parolees transition from prison to life outside

All those are great reasons to support the Bill Meyer Scholarship. But here’s the really intriguing thing about Keith Stein’s email, asking me to publicize the event:

Bill was also a staunch Republican. Keith is the chair of Westport’s Democratic Town Committee.

The staged reading includes a cast of veteran WCT actors — and a bipartisan cast of local politicians, including Martha Aasen, Toni Boucher, Gail Lavielle, Dewey Loselle, Jim Marpe and Jonathan Steinberg.

Westport Community Theatre

“Bill was an enthusiastic cheerleader for Westport,” Keith says. “I’m involved in the Democratic Town Committee because I want to promote Westport. Sure, he was a Republican. But he transcended politics.”

So did Keith’s email.

Washington: Are you listening?

(The Westport Community Theatre’s fundraiser for the Bill Meyer Scholarship is set for Saturday, October 24 [6-9:30 p.m.] at the Westport Historical Society. It starts with a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception, followed by a staged reading of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Tickets are $50 per person. Click here or call 203-226-1983.)

Shut The Front Door!

It’s October, not August. Westporters are turning our thermostats up, not down.

But it’s never too early to think about that scourge of summer: Main Street stores that throw their front doors open, wasting enormous air-conditioning energy in the belief that customers will not come in if they have to actually open the door.

Apparently, that’s an issue in New York too.

But America’s largest city has managed to do something about it.

A new law requires most shops and restaurants to keep front doors and windows shut, while air-conditioners and cooling systems are in use. Exceptions include restaurants with outdoor dining, and sidewalk cafes. Fines range from $250 to $1,000.

A typical summer scene downtown.

A typical summer scene downtown. Previous “06880′ posts on the subject have been met with indifference by store owners.

The Department of Consumer Affairs is advertising the new law with stickers saying “Shut the Front Door!” That’s a polite twist on the texting abbreviation “STFU.”

New York’s law is not meant to punish store owners who think they’ll lure customers with a blast of cold air. It’s an acknowledgment of an enormous waste of energy — and the urgency of reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

Westport was a leader in the national movement to ban plastic bags. It’s time for our RTM to take another step in the war against climate change. Let’s follow New York City’s lead, and shut every front door in town.

In Case You Base Your Vote On More Than Road Signs…

Opinions are like you-know-whats: Everyone’s got ’em.

Westporters know exactly what to do about Baron’s South, the education budget, tree-cutting, downtown parking, Compo Beach, affordable housing, bike lanes, and a thousand different topics.

We are not afraid to share our thousands of different views with our elected officials.

When those officials disagree with us, we think it’s their fault. Even if we did not vote in the election that put them in office.

Knowledge is power.

LWV my town my voteIf you’d like to know exactly who you’re voting for next month — besides seeing their names on lawn signs — come to a pair of League of Women Voters-sponsored debates.

Tomorrow (Monday, October 5) focuses on candidates for the Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Assessment Appeals.

On Wednesday, October 14, meet Board of Education and Board of Finance hopefuls.

Both sessions are set for Town Hall, at 7 p.m.

But wait! There’s more!

Both days, at 6:15 p.m., voters can meet Representative Town Meeting (RTM) candidates. They’re our unsung civic backbone, with power over everything from final budgets to plastic bags.

Around the world, people continue to die for the right to vote. Here in Westport, you just have to go around the corner.