Bridging Saugatuck

Everyone in Westport calls it (redundantly) the “Bridge Street bridge.” No one uses the official “William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge” name. (He was a popular cop who, for years, theatrically directed rush-hour traffic at the Riverside Avenue intersection.)

In a while, though, everyone in town will be talking about it.

Preliminary discussions between local and state officials have begun regarding repairs — or perhaps replacement — of the 131-year-old, 287-foot structure.

It’s the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It carries 16,000 vehicles a day.

Maritime commerce in long-ago Saugatuck — and upriver, downtown Westport — depended on the bridge’s ability to open. It was a tedious, hand-cranking process.

It also put a lot of stress on the bridge — stress that’s been aggravated by tremendous vehicular traffic, and occasional collisions with vessels. Now its girders are rusting — and possibly cracking.

An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it's filled with traffic.

An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it’s filled with traffic.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has identified serious deficiencies with the Bridge Street bridge. They’ve got their eyes on it. (And many others — our infrastructure is not exactly healthy.)

Renovation or replacement would entail considerable disruption to a structure vital to our town. (Repairs a while back resulted in a temporary span being constructed adjacent to the permanent one. That’s when a much-needed northbound turning lane was added, coming off the bridge by the old Mansion Clam House.)

There’s no question something must be done. When it is, will other issues be addressed — like the congestion that currently clogs Saugatuck for hours each day?

Will there be discussion of (let’s say) using some of the land at (let’s say) Rizzuto’s parking lot for a roundabout, moving traffic continuously through without a light? It’s been done elsewhere.

“Improvements” are in the eye of the beholder. Would you like to see the old truss bridge remain? Would you prefer a completely new structure?

If you have ideas on how to improve the Bridge Street bridge — and the traffic mess on and around it — click “Comments.” Please use your real name. Feel free to add thoughts on when and how you use the bridge, and what you think of it.

The Bridge Street bridge and environs, as seen on Google Earth view.

The Bridge Street bridge and environs, as seen on Google Earth view.

30 responses to “Bridging Saugatuck

  1. Scott Kobak

    The traffic has been truly awful in the morning rush hour. I would consider making the bridge one way traffic towards the train station in the morning. I assume traffic in the other direction is light at that time and the crossing can be accommodated by going to Post Road. Alternatively we can make the timing of the lights favor traffic going to the train in a significant way.

    • I believe the heavy traffic is mostly due to people seeking relief from an overburdened I-95, not Westport train commuters… though they are certainly affected.

  2. Mary Ann West

    They could start by keeping the large trucks OFF the bridge. If there is a weight limit, it’s not enforced, especially westbound when I-95 is backed up, meaning every weekday morning.

  3. Elissa Moses

    The bridge doesn’t feel safe. Let’s find a solution FAST.

  4. It would be a serious mistake to make plans for the bridge without involving the many families in the neighborhoods on the west side of the river.

  5. Matthew Mandell

    Well Dan you have created your own charette here with the bridge.

    As one of the RTMs for this district I get more than my shares of comments about it. I love the bridge, wonderful piece of our character. The bridge itself does not cause that much traffic. Sure there are times a big truck has its issues, but the intersection and sheer volume in the area are what need to be looked at.

    1. Can’t make it one way, at any time. It is a major two way thoroughfare.
    2. Having a cop at the intersection past 9am would help considerably. Having one there by 4pm to whenever traffic eases would be good too.
    3. Widening it? The road north is one lane each way too, so it does nothing other than make fearful drivers on the bridge comfortable.
    4.Doubt Rizzutos would want to give up parking area, so we’d be talking eminent domain. Tough stuff.
    5. I for one would like to see them make it work as is and deal with the rest of the issues first before we decide to toss the bridge out. The roads approaching it in Saugatuck are clogged because of volume and they are not being widened. So more buses maybe, More commuter parking surely won’t stop the cars from coming down. And when we do have more commuters, the trains can’t handle them. It is one perplexing problem that is not just related to the bridge.

  6. James Delorey

    I love this bridge, and ride over it on my bike twice a day, every workday, on my way to and from the train, and have for seven years. When people ask me how I can bear the daily train commute to New York City, I tell them I get to come home to New England every night, peddling over the Saugatuck River on that old green bridge, and get to paddleboard under the bridge on weekends in the summer. In the winter, riding under the glow of Al’s Angels’ lights is like a dream.
    I understand the concerns of the many backed-up car drivers I pass each morning and evening as they wait to get over the bridge. Even on the coldest mornings, I don’t envy them. I hope we can do something to solve the traffic circulation problems on both sides of the river, because I would miss that bridge greatly if it were replaced, and would sorely miss it if it were out of put out of commission for repairs.

  7. don l bergmann

    Many years ago this historic and wonderful bridge was re-built because our Town wanted to preserve history and the quaint. Our Town rejected capitulation to rush hour traffic. That philosophy resonates just as strongly today. I also note that our traffic police are authorized to remain after 9:00 a.m. if traffic demands their continued role beyond that hour. That should be reinforced. The answer to delays on our roads during certain periods of time should not be to build more or bigger roads. Examine some fine tuning possibilities, consider some modest changes, but do not tear down this bridge. Do not create more asphalt..
    Don Bergmann

  8. The number one priority is safety. Beyond that, I think any major changes should only be undertaken after looking at all of Saugatuck. This is a wonderful, vibrant part of town, and we don’t want to mess with it on a piecemeal basis.

  9. Definitely second the idea of a roundabout

  10. I guess I don’t see how the bridge itself is related to the larger traffic issues. The traffic flow at the intersection of Bridge Street, Compo, and Greens Farms road was significantly improved after the town and/or the state did a traffic study of some kind and then adjusted the timing of the traffic light. It was like night and day after the change.

    Perhaps increased use of a traffic officer will help the situation at Bridge Street and Riverside (and, in doing so, we will reinforce why Willam F. Cribari deserved having the bridge named in his honor).

  11. Roberta tager

    Déjàvous? Can anyone remember the seemingly easy to go over, wonderful temporary bridge? What is wrong with us?

  12. Michael Calise

    I would like to see more information regarding the need for replacement. Not too long ago the bridge was completely rebuilt with a new under structure the existing iron work was set on the new bridge for esthetics only, or so, we were told. Is this too much state money chasing a project in a state that has a horrible tax burden?

    • Wasn’t the bridge completely rebuilt about 8 years ago?

      While I’m sure it would be better wider, it seems that the traffic is caused much more by the intersection and narrow roads around it than the bridge itself. – Chris Woods

  13. Sherri Wolfgang-Peyser

    My family has always referred to the bridge as “the little blue bridge”.

    I hope they just renovate and repair but please leave its historic character in place.

    As far as traffic is concerned, I have no solutions except, listen to the radio, have a coffee in hand, be patient and enjoy the river view…..

  14. Marina Evenstein

    I have no solutions to suggest, just very concerned… I literally drive or bike this bridge 5 times a day, we live close to train station and my drive to the library/beach/Trader Joes/some Kids activities is through this lovely bridge. Closing it for repairs would cause major gridlock in the East part of town, the traffic at 33/route 1 intersection will become even worse. Wondering whether there is a solution… I also realize a lot of people avoid 95 traffic by going through Green Farms/ Bridge street in the rush hour, and not much can be done about this.

  15. Replacing this historic bridge is just a solution looking for a problem. We all tore our hair out years ago about keeping it or not. And we came down squarely on keeping it. So let’s just dance with the girl we brought and keep it maintained.

  16. if you leave 5 minutes earlier than usual, you should have no problem. The traffic moves along pretty quickly when there is a police officer at the light.

  17. Wendy Crowther

    Keep the historic bridge. Tell the state that they need to step-up their maintenance to protect this historic asset and to keep us safe. Traffic issues are caused by too many cars, not antique bridges. Most Westport homes now come equipped with three-car garages. My vintage house in Westport has one detached garage. THAT’S what has changed in 100+ years!

    I’m willing to wait in line to cross the 131-year-old span. Just think of it as a “traffic calming measure” rather than a nuisance. I don’t mind planning ahead and slowing down to cross it carefully. Replacing this quaint bridge with something bigger will only attract more cars; cars that will then get log-jammed into the surrounding streets.

    We decided to keep this bridge the last time this issue came up. Let’s fight to keep it again. Yes, leave a little earlier, go a little slower, and if you get stopped mid-span, enjoy the view.

    Let’s hope all of Al’s Angels and the spirit of officer Cribari can pitch in from on high to help “Save the Span.”

  18. Diane h silfen

    One of my Great Grandfathers was the first bridge tender of the bridge …from time to time my Mother helped him open it . We have all fished from the bridge boated under the bridge. It is such a part of Saugatuck. Please let’s keep it.

  19. It took the state 10 years to repair the Mianus River Bridge.

  20. If re-built, add a third lane, 3 reversible lanes used by signals to accommodate traffic volume.

  21. Nancy….do you think it’s the Lions Gate?

  22. Susan Schaefer

    It is important that any new bridge be built high enough for boaters to pass underneath. The rebuilt bridge design from a dozen-or-so years ago does not permit that. There are small boats in the marinas north of the bridge that cannot get down the river at high tide.

  23. Hey Dan,

    You’re right the official name is the William F. Cribari Bridge. Seeing on how you’re doing the reporting here why don’t you call it by it’s official name and show a little respect,, really he was just a theatrical traffic cop,,, do your homework and have some respect,,, I also agree with Fred and Wendy….

  24. After growing up here and watching the historic and quaintness of the town being taken away piece by piece it would be awful to see the bridge be the next thing to disappear.
    After spending 9mil.on the bridge years ago
    and was told later that at that time it could have been made wider and keep the same facade it didn’t seem like much thought was
    put into that project only to bandaid it .As for
    a round about.I have expierencr both in florida,NJ they consume a lot more area than taking away a little bit of land from Rizzuto’s parking lot.
    Lets make repairs or get new machanics and keep the bridge since the bridge is part of Westport’s history .Let’s keep the homes,& commercial buildings that makes this town quaint and historic and put more thought into renovation and restructing and not demolition.