Marpe: “Keep An Open Mind” On Bridge Street Bridge

Yesterday afternoon, First Selectman Jim Marpe issued a statement regarding the 131-year-old Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge project.

Describing a July 8 meeting involving his office; the Police, Public Works/Engineering Departments, and the state Department of Transportation, and a follow-up conference call the next month with town officials; the Westport Historic District Commission chairman and staff, the DOT, and the State Historic Preservation Office, Marpe said:

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. The superstructure 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.

Bridge Street Bridge: icon or eyesore? (Photo/Michael Champagne)

Bridge Street Bridge: icon or eyesore? (Photo/Michael Champagne)

Marpe said he was also pleased that the DOT assigned Mark McMillian, an architectural historian and National Register specialist, to its project team.

Marpe said that the state is in preliminary stages of a Rehabilitation Study Report. It will take 6 months, and is being performed by a bridge consultant.  When complete, the report will detail the conditions, problems, issues, severity, costs and potential options for rehabilitation. There will be public hearings and presentations, as well as ample opportunity for public review and comment.

According to Marpe, discussions so far suggest that the bridge has major problems. These may include severe structural deficiencies; functional obsolescence; major traffic safety problems, and issues with abutments, the truss and the underside of the bridge.

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.

Marpe added:

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.

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. I will continue to encourage the state to develop recommendations that balance long-term safety improvements with the need to preserve an important part of Westport’s history.

I urge all Westporters to keep an open mind on the future of the bridge and to wait until we receive the completed engineering findings and facts of the state’s report before reaching conclusions devoid of information.

At this time, no plans of any kind have been suggested by the DOT with regard to what the rehabilitation/replacement options might be. We have been assured by the DOT that a variety of rehabilitation options will be studied. Finally, it is important to note that in current discussions there have been no proposals for construction of a 4-lane bridge as some have mentioned.

14 responses to “Marpe: “Keep An Open Mind” On Bridge Street Bridge

  1. Safety has to be the number one concern. Beyond that, however, is how this bridge fits into the historic but rapidly changing Saugatuck district. While the state takes the next six months to evaluate options for the bridge, it’s critical that the town begin a comprehensive look at Saugatuck as a whole. Individual developers have their projects. The town must have a plan.

  2. don l bergmann

    My view is the issue is do we want to do all we can to preserve this historic bridge. I want to do all we can and I have conveyed that to First Selectman Marpe. The leadership role of our First Selectman on this and similar issues, e.g. the 8-30g effort involving The Westport Inn and the Greens Farms Rd. cell tower, is often crucial. Jim (and P&Z Chair Chip Stephens) did a superb job with the Inn and Jim appears to be having success with preventing the construction of the Cell Tower. We do not need a Saugatuck Plan to save this bridge. We also need to challenge the safety arguments in so far as they cause the bridge to be replaced rather than simply to address any underpinning structural issues..
    Don Bergmann

    • Don, so you’re suggesting that we should consider the safety problem well below those of the historical significance? I would think that the safety problem should be tantamount to any historical significance! If that design and structure of the bridge are not deemed safe, change it and put a new bridge there in its place.

      • Sandy, I do not think Don said anything of the sort. I am not a structural engineer, but I have built many structural building elements and the bottom line is this bridge seems to be a candidate for rehabilitation. Do you currently avoid using the bridge altogether because of fear it might fail? Probably not right? Although, the DOT has stated that the width of the bridge does not conform with current standards I look at it as an existing traffic calming measure. Face it…people slow down when crossing the bridge and cars follow bike riders. Bottom line is if there is a will there is a way….balancing safety with historical significance is achievable and should not be pitted against each other.

  3. Mr. Marpe,

    Firstly, I recall being told, not that long ago, that the woods at Barons South was “dangerous”. It spawned a lot of jokes. Obviously, no one supports dangerous bridge crossings, so can we just call a time-out on fear mongering?

    Secondly, that’s great that you want all of us to “keep and open mind”, about the bridge, but I hope you will forgive me if I have difficulty swallowing that after (1) your appallingly cynical September 1, 2015 letter to DOT Commissioner Redeker in which you appear to purposely misconstrue the language of CGS Sec.7-147q, thus undermining the lawful request of a Westport resident to designate the bridge in question as a Local Historic Landmark Property and (2), your declared opposition to this same designation at last Tuesday’s Historic District Commission public hearing (in which the majority of the commission members went against you, the HDC Chair and Vice Chair to move ahead with the designation anyway).

    Although the precise motivation for the sabotage (and subterfuge) remains, for now, a mystery, what many wonder is this: irrespective of your feelings about the historic bridge, its condition, etc., why would anyone in your position deliberately throw away leverage when facing an entity that, in many ways, has the upper hand?

  4. While I am one for historic preservation – and cringe that age is too often the primary measure, rather than aesthetic and historic merit – I don’t see that bridge and think “historic,” I see it and think “old.”

    What are the structural requirements that we need for that location? Is the more cost effective approach to renovate or build a new bridge? Can we make it less ugly? It looks like an Erector Set bridge, to me.

    • Chris, you may have missed this – and that’s not your fault at all – the Town of Westport hired certified architectural historians in 1986 to investigate this bridge’s historic significance. As a result, the U.S. Dept. of Interior determined that the structure, owing principally to its importance as a rare, surviving example of a first generation wrought iron movable bridge, had national significance. The bridge was subsequently added to the National Register of Historic Places – the nation’s list of most significant historic resources. In the intervening years, circumstances have led us to a point where this bridge is not only the oldest hand operated movable bridge in the State of Connecticut, it is, in fact, the only one left. This bridge represents American ingenuity at its best and it was conceived by a father and son team who were pioneers in their field. I would encourage you to look beyond the surface to the bridge and consider how astonishing it is that this seemly humble bridge which was intended to handle horse drawn wagons and the like has managed to accommodate modern automobile traffic at a level approaching something like 1,700 cars a day – 24 hours and day, 365 days a year. The fact is, once you look into it, and recognize all the things that Westport wanted this bridge to be capable of doing, you realize that it only looks simple.

      • Morley. The bridge has outlasted its use. At best it could be removed and added to a museum or your backyard given how much you like it. But not is it a danger to all of us that use it, but it’s quite unattractive. And we need the ability to have a bridge that provides better utilization and transpiration capabilities.

        The design was not effective in providing a bridge that would last the time. Sometimes you need to say ‘enough’. Not wide enough, not structurally sound. Dangerous.

        As you know, when things get past their time of usefulness they need to be changed. And those that want to hold
        Onto the past decide to add it to a museum or other venues.

        I will hope we decide to protect safety and to get to a new era where a new bridge design will add to Westport. Like this one, a new architect should be brought on to create the next generation. Which includes safe travel.

  5. I love the bridge, but after seeing the photos of the rust and reading about “several structural deficiencies,” I’m concerned about driving over it. I think of the Mianus River Bridge, which suddenly collapsed in 1982, and was much newer. Is it safe, and for how long?

    • Bobbie, I understand your concerns, but please don’t fall victim to the First Selectman’s fear mongering. That’s exactly what he wants you to be: afraid. And those that are afraid tend to get taken advantage of. Here are a few helpful facts: First of all, the images of rust and vehicle damage to the historic portion of the bridge should put in proper context: back in the 80’s DOT installed a new bridge under our historic bridge. This relieved the historic bridge of any more strain. It’s done all the time in situations where an important historic bridge needs to be made safe. You might say that what we see and love is decorative – it is no longer load bearing. That job now falls to the hidden, modern bridge beneath it. As for the scary “deficiencies”, you should be aware that the structural portion of the bridge was just rated by DOT as a 5/6 on a scale of 1 to 9 (9 being excellent). So, we’re really looking at something that, at present, is more average than anything else. I hope you feel a little better.

      • Nancy Hunter Wilson

        I hope that you are both a lawyer and a civil engineer.

      • 5/6 on a scale of 9. If true you are willing to leave a bridge that is 50% safe? At what point does the scale mean dangerous? 7? 6? 5? When does the bridge go to 4? Or 3?

        Morley-time passes and progress is made. This bridge is not wide enough and not functional and based on your numbers not close to being safe.

        Why are you so angry?

      • Aside from the “5” rating, the bridge is scary because it is too narrow. You can tell by the way people drive across it. You can tell by the amount of impact damage.

        It may be of historical interest but there are a lot of things that are of historic interest that are no longer in active use from the Spirit of St. Louis or Apollo 13 to all sorts of steam locomotives. The common thread is they are functionally obsolete and generally in museums where they belong. Heck, like old locomotives, most old bridges have been relegated to the scrap heap but some have been preserved, though not necessarily in place. For example, the London Bridge (relocated to Arizona) or the Chain of Rocks Bridge (in place but converted to pedestrian/bike use) Bottom line, it would not be sacrilege for the Cribari Bridge to be replaced and preserved elsewhere.

        Interestingly, part of the concerns cited by Mr. Marpe is the position it plays in limiting traffic in the Saugatuck neighborhood. If that is really what folks want, keeping the scary bridge around might be the right answer.

  6. Thank you for the stunning photos of this bridge in the recent posts – love it. I just appreciate seeing it as it was a daily part of my growing up. Do what you need to do to be safe and keep the photos of this beloved bridge if you need to replace it. Bridge collapses are deadly — seen it first hand so I hope you all do what you need to do to keep Westport safe first and foremost.