A Bridge Too Narrow?

The Bridge Street (aka William Cribari) Bridge is getting ready for the big time.

This summer, surveyors were all over the 131-year-old, much-loved, unique, narrow, creaky and decaying structure. State authorities have marked it for improvements — though exactly what that entails, and when, is unclear.

At the same time, a move is underway to designate it as historic. Such a designation would limit the kinds of improvements that could be made.

Hand-cranking open the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge.

Hand-cranking open the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge.

The debate will continue — with, no doubt, more public attention and input than it’s received so far.

Whatever happens, this much is sure: It will cost more than the $26,700 the town spent to build it in 1884.

The bridge it replaced was just 13 years old. But it had already been eaten away by shipworms.

The Bridge Street bridge, open for Saugatuck River navigation.

The Bridge Street bridge, open for Saugatuck River navigation.

42 responses to “A Bridge Too Narrow?

  1. They tried to replace it permanently in 1989 or 90 with that temporary bridge which was set up during the repairs to this one. Hope this will be made historic and be around for many more years. Also, it would be nice if those tacky Christmas lights could be removed and not remain strung up all year like they have been…

    • Those “tacky” Christmas lights — a gift of Al’s Angels — look great at holiday time. I’m guessing it’s very labor intensive to have to take them down and string them up every year.

      • Clearly a lovely gesture by Al’s Angels and yes they do look very nice when they’re on….but it shouldn’t be at the expense of having to look at them hanging there all year round…definitely an eye sore. Before Al’s Angels started the current sponsor, the bridge still had holiday lights and I remember they were taken down after the holidays.

  2. In every previous attempt by the DOT to replace our iconic swing bridge with a larger, four lane bridge, the fight to repair and preserve it has been led by our First Selectmen – Marty Hauhuth I am looking at you! Which is why it is so disturbing to now discover that Jim Marpe and Dewey Loselle had received a undisclosed briefing by DOT back on July 8th regarding DOT’s plans. Not only did they not share the information they received at that briefing with the town but on my third official request – just this past Friday -for copies of the July 8th DOT’s powerpoint briefing presentation Jim personally told me that he would not share it with me – and by extension – to the rest of the RTM – without the authorization of the DOT. When I told him that the DOT officials were the ones who first informed me of their July 8th briefing to him and had advised me to get the briefing materials from him, he still refused to share the information with me – and to the rest of the RTM – until, he said, he first released it to the public. I agreed that it had to be released to the public – which was, after all, why I was asking for it. I asked him when he would release it considering that the DOT briefing had been over two months ago. He brusquely stated that he would release it this coming Monday and walked out of the room.

    I next called DOT back and they promptly sent me the materials within minutes. Which I then forwarded to the entire RTM, the BOS, the HDC, town preservationists, the media (including this 06880 Blog) and concerned constituents who had previously contacted me wanting to know what was happening to the bridge.

    I share all this background here because it raises serious questions for me about the First Selectman’s commitment to do everything in his power to ensure that the bridge receives any and all necessary repairs it requires while maintaining it as the last hand cranked swing bridge in CT. Or is he going to be the First Selectman who oversees its destruction and replacement?

    Know that this issue is on the Oct 6th RTM agenda if you wish to have your concerns heard.

    John F. Suggs
    RTM District 5

  3. Elisabeth Keane

    Would it be possible for you to post the link to that information, please?

  4. I remember when I was 16 trying to navigate that bridge. On a rainy day it was treacherous! Back then there was no pavement on the bridge, just metal and you could see through down to the river. Awesome bridge.

  5. While it is a lovely bridge to look at, it is also clearly a major traffic bottleneck, particularly during commuting hours. I generally don’t travel the route but probably go through the area once a week or so during evening rush with traffic backups being a disaster at the bridge. It s unlikely that a wider bridge would be the cure-all but anything that improves the flow would be helpful. Even at non-rush times, when two Escalades (or pretty much any SUVs) are coming at each other, traffic grinds to a halt for the rest of us due to (probably unwarranted as there should be room) fear of collision.

    All else being equal, I’m all for preserving historical structures but some change on Bridge Street is probably warranted. Maybe preserve the bridge by moving it north of the Post Road bridge to be the often proposed pedestrian bridge across the river? Maybe volunteers from the historical association can open and close it twice a day as historical demonstration?

    However, if the goal is to keep the current congestion to minimize the number of cars passing through the Saugatuck area, by all means folks should fight any changes to the bridge.

  6. Matthew Mandell

    The bridge itself does not cause any traffic. Yes, there are moments when trucks move slowly, but that is not traffic. The intersection of Bridge and Riverside is the issue with the volume that exists. So let’s not make the bridge the scapegoat, its not.

    We have an historic icon and the DOT needs to understand its value to the town before they make any decisions.

    • Of course the intersection is “the problem”, but the narrow bridge is effectively part of the intersection and contributes not insignificantly to “the problem”. Let’s not distract anyone from reality – if you could evacuate cars faster from the area, congestion would be reduced. A wider bridge would help with that. Four lanes would help even more by increasing evacuation capacity and reducing the number of time left turners off the bridge keep right turning traffic that otherwise could move from moving. Would probably have to widen Bridge Street to 3 lanes to Imperial (so left turners there don’t stop traffic) to really free things up but there is no rational argument that the bridge isn’t part of the problem and that replacing it would help.

      That doesn’t mean the bridge should be replaced but by leaving it as is, you just have to reconcile that the bad traffic situation isn’t going to get better and is probably only going to get worse absent other significant changes (e.g. banning cars south of the bridge turning Saugatuck into a big pedestrian mall).

      As head of Chamber of Commerce, have you spoken with the Saugatuck merchants to gauge their preferences? I’d think the Gaults and whoever is developing the rest of the area (not to mention local residents particularly if density goes up) might like improved traffic flow. So much so that they might contribute to the relocation and preservation of the bridge much like Mr Waldman so generously did with the Kemper-Gunn house.

      By the way, if you really want history, rip out the bridge and bring back the ferry.

      • The new westporters can care less about history. It’s what makes things easier for them. They can’t wait. It’s me me me

    • Thank you Mathew

    • If Mr. Cribari were still alive, he’d have traffic moving through there as swift as fire! While I’m grateful to all of our towns officers, these days the traffic cops just stand there, point and yell at drivers about what to do next. I don’t think the current system of getting traffic through that intersection is working too well.

  7. This should all be part of a long range plan for the downtown Saugatuck area. Is there one?

  8. Hats off to John Suggs for shining a light on this issue. Mr. Marpe’s actions if as Suggs described are not what I want from a First Selectman. What’s to not communicate. His actions make no sense to me and remind me of the “mushroom principle” oft practiced in the military and national politics. “Feed ’em (fertilizer) and keep ’em in the dark”

  9. I remember the graceful and generous temporary bridge the state built when our “rickety bridge,” as our family called it, was being rebuilt. I wondered then if the last laugh was on us. I like the idea of using it as a pedestrian bridge, but who would spend money on such a good idea?

    While we’re at it, why don’t we call Calatrava for something really amazing?

    • I’m in as much pain as anyone about the changes happening in Westport; I simply think we ought to think and talk about the Bridge Over The Saugatuck — which it exactly what we’re doing. Is it charming? Is it THE problem?

      I adore the idea for a ferry pulled by rope. It might slow traffic to a bearable rate and give us contemplation time as we wait. We could even get to know one another. mmm

  10. It’s probably time to get rid of that eyesore and put up a bridge that is safe and allows easy traffic flow, and allows pedestrians and bikers a safe passage. It was nice, 100 years ago, but it’s outlived it’s purpose now and is just dangerous and a traffic bottleneck.

    • Why not just get rid of every historical landmark in Westport. I wonder when the Minuteman Statue will become an eyesore and you want that moved. Traffic , congestion ,, please stop that

    • Dick Lowenstein

      The bridge should be saved….but moved. We’re still waiting for a light-traffic bridge to connect the Imperial Lot to the Levitt/Library lot. Or perhaps David Waldman will move it and make it a pedestrian bridge connecting his Save-the-Children property to Gorham Island or thereabouts.

      • Typically preservationists would not view separating a custom built historic bridge from its contextual setting as an appropriate intervention.

  11. Thanks to John Suggs, Wendy Crowther, Morley Boyd, Matt Mandell, and 06880 for bringing the status of the iconic William F Cribari Bridge, a 133 year old National Historic Structure, to the attention of Westport’s citizens. When I became aware of the significance of CT DOT’s several months of work last week, I –as a private citizen — contacted the Federal Highway Administration, the agency responsible for ensuring public involvement in changes to structures of historic involvement.

    Part of the response I received may help those concerned preparation for what is to come:

    “FHWA and CTDOT are aware this bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; however, the recent bridge inspections have determined this bridge to be in poor condition. CTDOT will be undertaking a rehabilitation study within the next year or so to determine if the bridge can be rehabilitated or repaired, and if not, then CTDOT will conduct an alternatives analysis regarding the replacement of the bridge. Thus, there is no project description or plans to share at this time regarding this project beyond that the bridge is in poor condition and something needs to be done. We understand that you, the community and Town of Westport are interested in this project and CTDOT will be having future meetings regarding this project and soliciting input and feedback from interested parties, per Section 106 regulations. CTDOT will also be coordinating with the State Historic Preservation Office regarding the project during the Section 106 process.

    “Thank you for your interest in this project. If you have any further questions, please contact Mr. Mark McMillan, the National Register Specialist with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, at mark.mcmillan@ct.gov or by phone at (860) 594-2135.”

  12. Wendy Crowther

    Though I love Dan’s descriptions of the bridge as being much-loved, unique and narrow, I want to make sure that readers know that the bridge is not as “creaky and decaying” as some might think. For those that may not read the important links posted by Mr. Suggs (excellent work BTW), here is an important sentence in one of the links. It was written by the State’s Transportation Supervising Engineer. She writes:

    “The condition rating for the Truss is rated a 2, and Piers 1 & 2 (substructure) is rated 5, (on a scale of 0-9, with 0 being a failed condition and 9 being excellent). The Truss is ‘ornamental’ and is not serving any structural purpose other than holding itself up…”

    The truss – all the metalwork we see rising above the road surface – is one of the most distinctive and historical features of the bridge. I suspect its condition is easily fixable. Based on the above quote, the condition of the rest of the bridge is more than halfway toward “excellent.” Therefore, it’s far from decrepit.

    Our unique and historic bridge needs some repair, not replacement. Let’s be sure this message is made incredibly clear to CT DOT.

  13. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    What I remember is the sound that the tyres of an auto makes when accelerating over the open mesh of the deck. The faster the speed the higher the “woo-woo” sound. But let’s get serious. May I suggest that you folks be in regular contact with the Historic Bridge Foundation, based in Austin, Texas. Over the years they have helped to save numerous iron bridges. And those they could not help save, were able to take them apart and store them for some future purpose. HBF has a wealth of information on federal programs to help with the preservation of bridges. Further, if it comes to pass that the swing bridge needs to be closed for a period, then it may be possible to contact the Department of Defense and ask if there is a military reserve unit (e.g. “Seabees” or “Red Horse brigade” )that could be tasked (via a reserve training exercise) to throw across the river a temporary span, such as a pontoon bridge like in World War II, “A Bridge Too Far,” or a Bailey Bridge of prefab sections. The city of Red Bank, NJ uses such a “temporary” bridge to connect the town across the river to Middletown Township, while Red Bank fusses and fiddles on how to replace the original structure.Contact: Kitty Henderson, Executive Director, Historic Bridge Foundation, Box 66245, Austin, TX 78766; email: kitty@historicbridgefoundation.org

  14. To expand upon what Wendy Crowther stated previously, it is important to understand that what all of us see as the “bridge” (the trusses and so forth) is not actually the bridge any more – at least in a structural, load bearing sense. Consistent with DOT’s own Bridge Preservation Guidelines (1991), a whole other bridge was constructed beneath the historic bridge in the late 80’s/ early 90’s to support the antique original. This is precisely what was done with that incredible covered wooden truss bridge in Cornwall, CT (off route 7).

    Additionally, for those who pine for a way to, ahem, drive faster through the center of Saugatuck, and onto Bridge Street, Imperial, South Compo and Greens Farms Road, you might want to hold your enthusiasm at bay until you get a look at the DOT’s “solution”. If it is anything like the last four attempts, it will quite likely involve the taking of private land in order to create a four lane approach (don’t forget DOT isn’t about to replace our beloved swing bridge with another moveable bridge – it will instead be a tall, standard issue highway style fixed arch). At one point, the DOT proposed a four lane road and bridge from the intersection of Bridge Street and South Compo all the way to Saugatuck Ave – complete with clover leaf exits.

    For what it’s worth, back in 1968, Selectman Klemish made just this sort of strategic error after complaining to the DOT about the bridge. Of course, he put it in reverse and went squealing out of the driveway as soon as he saw DOT’s bituminous theme park solution. He – and subsequent administrations – have had to play Wack-a-Mole with the DOT ever since.

    Lastly, there is this: exactly half our town’s name is “port” and this bridge is a critical link to that maritime heritage. It, like the other non-renewable cultural and historic resources that enrich and inform our lives have to be safeguarded accordingly. Sadly, it would appear that in this instance the citizens of Westport will likely have to do it without the benefit of our own government. I hope to be proven wrong.

    • If you are intent on saving this relic; your efforts should be focused on making the DOT see the wisdom of your arguments and not flailing about while heaping disdain on those who have no ultimate control over the status of the bridge. The DOT has the final say; why not take your arguments to Hartford?

      To whom does the DOT report? Why not seek to influence the DOT’s actions by appealing to someone who can control them? The DOT has money to spend and spend it it must. Someone appropriated those funds, what were they thinking?

      I think the bridge is of little or no significance. There was a Westport before there was a bridge, and there will be a Westport after the bridge is gone in all likelihood. If you want to save the bridge; knock yourself out. Personally, I think you better recognize the fact that the DOT has another agenda which is shaped by the ruling class in Hartford.

      • Because the Willam F Cribari is designated a National Historic Structure and funding comes in part from the federal government the Federal Highway Administration ensures that hearings are held. Our senators and congressional representatives, therefore, have a role in this situation–unlike the restoration in the nineteen eighties which led to the National Historic Designation.

        Folks who denigrate the naming, designation and preservation of this bridge ought to recognize the implied insult they offer to the experience and the history of those who lived in, created significance for, and built this community.

  15. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I can’t get the thought of shipworms out of my mind.
    Thanks, Dan, for the nightmares!

    Good luck, however, with the bridge renovation.
    If it is used, it is worth saving.

  16. 06880 breaks the news. Twelve hours later, the official town news agency publishes a spoon-fed, Sunday-night, head-spinningly spun response from the First Selectman. Why is transparency such a problem in this town?

  17. I am surprised that anyone thinks the bridge is still hand cranked. That went out with the last improvement project – the one that had to be redone after completion when the designer realized his support beams restricted the up river boat traffic i.e. the VFW fleet. The opening of the bridge was formerly a
    town hand cranking operation which was actually quite quick. The last time I checked the opening procedure was to call the bridge tender at the Norwalk River Bridge who contacts the state to send down the necessary manpower. They then pull out a hand held electric motor from a local storage box and crank away. That is when they show up. When we lived up river years back I called on a Friday afternoon to get through for a 3 day weekend with our sloop and we ended up stuck behind the bridge for the weekend with the state having lost the key – or more likely the guy with the key left early for the long weekend. The shortest cruise we ever took.
    Whatever happens with the bridge going forward I think that the town
    would want to regain control of the bridge. I suspect our police will agree. The were certainly quite unhappy back then.