A Bridge To Somewhere, Once

As Westporters debate the fate of the Bridge Street (aka Cribari) Bridge, we’ve heard a lot about the temporary span erected during the most recent (1980s) renovation.

What’s a temporary bridge? How did it divert traffic while the permanent bridge was worked on? What did it look like?

Thanks to indefatigable “06880” reader/researcher Fred Cantor, everyone now knows:That’s the temporary structure on the left, cutting from Bridge Street over the Saugatuck River, through what was then the Mansion Clam House (now Parker Mansion) parking lot.

Pretty cool, huh?

Bridge Street bridge - temporary from 1980s

(Photo/Steve Turner)

BONUS FEATURE: Hump-backed Ketchum Street is at the lower right. It’s been lowered considerably since then, during the Saugatuck Center project.

28 responses to “A Bridge To Somewhere, Once

  1. Matthew Mandell

    Alright, so let’s continue the conversation on the bridge…….

    If they were to put in a bridge such as this again, it would need to be higher and start farther back on both sides. This would take land, which I don’t think folks would appreciate. We would lose the historic significance of the bridge and the area and it would allow 18 wheelers on tiny Bridge st and Greens Farms Road. A major safety issue. Not what we want.

    Someone asked in the prior post about the height of the old bridge and boats getting through. They do now. Will the number of openings increase? Who knows, but I’ll wait to let the twice a month in the summer boats get through. I can’t speak for others on this, but Character and charm are worth a bit of my time here and there.

  2. That’s a great photo of the temporary bridge, but it doesn’t suggest the height of it. The bridge was surprisingly high and a steep climb from Riverside Ave.
    I thought it was fun. It was also icy in winter.

  3. As I remember it was unattractive and dangerous. Not something I would like to see again.

  4. This is the 2nd temporary bridge done. The first was Mianus River Bridge. 1985. I remember them both. And my family agrees with Matt…. how many 18 wheelers and other large trucks are going to ‘oops’ take a wrong turn and hit the railroad bridge(s). The roads can’t take the pounding and weight of trucks. Exit 17 straight on Charles st, left Riverside ave and right on Bridge st the streets can’t handle it. That’s insane! Even back then with the temporary bridge it was crazy. I know it will interesting in Norwalk Exit 16. Thanks to Steve for the picture.

  5. To those readers looking for some background color on the role the image of this temporary replacement bridge played in the current debate please see this news story from last month:


    “Boyd showed a photo from 1993 of a two-lane temporary bridge that was built alongside the swing bridge while it was being renovated. He went on to note that a state Department of Transportation official said on Jan. 23 that, if a replacement bridge were built it would take the same path as the earlier temporary span. Boyd said he believes a replacement bridge would “likely be quite larger.”

    Anyone wanting to place the image in its historic context can always view it, together with its associated history at http://www.PreserveWestport.Com

  6. you have given me credit where credit is not due. This was from the preservewestport site. But thanks anyway.

  7. The temp bridge in the photo was tall enough to allow boat traffic underneath. That was one of the requirements when it was installed. The view up top was pretty neat. I do remember on the start of a snow fall, coming down westbound (towards “Manero’s” :^) ) and it being slick. It actually appeared to be safer for vehicles passing both directions and not the limited clearances that we have now on the steel bridge. Was there any charm? Not a lick, but it was safer.
    Now if the steel bridge was converted to a walkway/bikeway/fishing pier, it could co-exist with a new bridge and provide a historical landmark to the town. Just thinking out o’ the box. :^)

    • As federal funds will likely be used for the rehabilitation, the DOT will face a mandate to maintain the historical integrity of our National Historic Structure Cribari Bridge. Changing the purpose, moving the Bridge, dramatically altering the setting, etc. would adversely affect the Bridge’s significance.

  8. The temporary bridge was wonderful! I missed it the minute it was gone!

  9. I remember the temp bridge well. We lost a lot of our parking at The Mansion Clamhouse and they tore down the old gas station right next door.

  10. Matt ,
    I agree the prospect of big tractor trailers coming thru our slice of Saugatuck is a issue to be dealt with vigorously. That said currently trucks 13′ and lower use the bridge daily and really head this way when 95 is at a dead stop.
    The tractor trailers that are really long never attempt to cross here they always head to rt 1 when 95 is stopped dead. (like it was early this month).

    So a couple of questions if you would be so kind.

    #1. IF the DOT does something with their bridge and I think they will seeing it really is in bad shape from the water line down, do you think a height restriction designed into the final bridge design either restored or replaced would address this truck issue?

    #2 Would you agree the current bridge height impedes boat traffic for at least 2 1/2 + hours twice a day?

    #3 Would it not be wise to look into a bridge height that allows NORMAL boat traffic to go under without openings IF they remove the swing bridge to restore/replace it? I stress the normal part as it will always have to open for cranes and dredges etc.

    • Matthew Mandell

      I am not totally up on the height of the bridge for boats. But I thought since it is a swing bridge it would open when needed for boats to go through. So I am not sure what the issue is, other than it stops traffic those infrequent times when it does open. How many times does the bridge open for boats each year month or year? That info would be good to know.

      As to the truck issue, only a physical height restriction would stop the big trucks, signs are not enough. So keeping the bridge as is would accomplish that.

      As to some other post. The bridge now is safe, there are a few mirror knocks here and there, but otherwise there are no problems. If the DOT could somehow widen the road bed, then fine, but height must be left intact to keep the big trucks at bay.

      • Matthew thanks for responding, Bridge height and boat traffic has always been an issue for mariners north of the bridge . At high tide it’s waste high so no boats other then low profile can get under without openings. This leaves at least an hour and half before peak tide and hour and half after peak for the tide to drop thus allowing passage under. Basically 3 hours of “no go”, not an option for most boaters especially if the tides are high after work. or they want to return late evening and can not get under.

        Openings while easy to arrange are problematic as 2 hour notice is needed and they have blackout times during rush hr. ( 5pm to 730 pm) . Fwiw there were 19 openings last year, not huge but it can be expected to be more this year. and future years. (ask me how I know) say twice a week but more frequently middle summer then spring etc..

        A bridge opening takes 25/35 minutes so a 4:45pm scheduled opening would tie it up pretty bad and has. ( again ask me how I know).

        As for safety , have you been under the bridge at dead low to look at the sub structure? Give me a call, id be glad to take you and any others to view. Its not pretty but I agree for now its IMHO Safe but im no lawyer/ engineer , just someone who uses the bridge more then most under and over.

        My thoughts come for a couple of directions and I apologize for lengthy comments but this is a huge issue that MUST to be looked at from all sides not just the traffic/ historic POV.

        I love the bridge, its a very cool attribute to our area and if its to be left alone then great, But the DOT owns it and has a right to deal with their bridge as they see fit, and THEY WILL.

        I guess my point is can a compromise be put into play to achieve the goals for all? I might be reaching here but ill stay positive and say yes .

        If they are to renovate, great renovate away but consider the traffic under just as much as over. if they are to replace and i think that’s what they will want then its has to be done tastefully maybe with over head structure to keep the big trucks on RT1.

        I personally do not want to see a big sweeping structure but maybe a hybrid of the old and new, maybe all new but classic design or maybe if it must be removed place it on a barge and re-purpose it to the save the children site for a pedestrian bridge to Gorhams. That would be cool in itself I feel.
        thanks for reading.

  11. Sorry my post was directed to Matthew Mandel, but as always would love to hear any responses as we only get this chance once concerning the bridge.

  12. mary schmerker

    Replacing the Cribari bridge would be a nightmare. First, a historic structure would be lost. Secondly there would be an environmental impact to the delicate shore line and surrounding area when a new larger structure is built. Most importantly, a traffic nightmare would result. Greens Farms Road is not designed for the type and amount of traffic it would experience if large vehicles and heavy traffic is allowed. A larger bridge would mean many more vehicles avoiding 95 along with commercial traffic.

  13. Jaime Bairaktaris

    I first saw this picture last year in one of the few books on Westport’s history – honestly I thought it was a joke at first. In regards to the Cribari preservation; once a historical landmark is destroyed, it’s gone (duh). This is a bridge that speaks to the old Saugatuck. I wasn’t able to experience it (Old Saugatuck), and neither is anyone in my age group or after it. If we get rid of this bridge, what will we still physically have from that time period to visit and enjoy (still missing Mario’s)? With everything being commercialized and mass produced today – driving or walking over this bridge IS something to be enjoyed (as long as you keep your side mirrors). I will actively change my routes just to drive over it, especially when Mr. DiGuido’s lights are up. Is it a hassle sometimes, sure, but the easy way isn’t always the best.

    • I agree completely. However there are twelve houses that line Bridge St designated as historical resources by the Westport Historic District Commission which you might enjoy being aware of. These include the house at the corner of South Compo and Bridge St. where Chloe Allen in 1869 dedicated her land between South Compo and the river to the town to become Bridge Street. It also includes the former bridge keeper’s house at the corner of Imperial Ave and Bridge St which was the subject of Edna Eicke’s 1956 Fourth of July New Yorker cover (republished in the Westport Historical Society’s book, The New Yorker in Westport).
      I have requested and the Westport Historic Disrict Commission unanimously approved this area from South Compo to the West Bank of the Saugatuck River be designated as a nationally registered district. Attaining this designation places no restrictions on property owners but does require a review if federal funds are to be used by ConnDOT to make changes in the area.
      Prior to the 1987 designation of the Cribari Bridge as a National Historic Structure ConnDOT plans included significant widening of the Bridge and a high rise proposal taking off from the crest of Bridge St at the roadway opposite #19 Bridge St and depositing traffic at the intersection of Treadwell Ave. and Riverside. The current preservation efforts would not only preserve the experiences of the past but also protect the residential neighborhoods of today’s residents.

  14. Mianus River bridge section collapsed in 1983. There was never a temporary span.

  15. We got three “Matts” here. 🙂 FYI on the Mianus, there were temporary spans put in place where the original section was. It restored northbound traffic movement so that the side roads weren’t used. I seem to remember it being done fairly quickly given the impact of losing I-95 as a thoroughfare.

    • Traffic was diverted to local streets.

      • David Schaffer

        I was working for the “Drive You Car” Service in Westport during the time the Mianus was down, and there were definitely temporary spans, I went over them many times. Initially traffic was diverted to the local roads but they did put up temporary spans.

        • The quote below is from this article. It should be a cautionary tale for Westport. Once the DOT starts repairing the I-95 bridge,the impact on Westport and Saugatuck could be devastating for a very long time.


          “After the event and until repairs could be implemented, the 80,000 to 90,000 vehicles that used I-95 on a daily basis were diverted to local streets. Greenwich police were stretched to the limit as they tried to keep the traffic moving and pedestrians safe. The Special Police Division donated over 750 hours in July and August to help. The Department of Health of the Town of Greenwich monitored the environmental impact closely, providing advice and counsel through the issuance of special bulletins to residents along the temporary routes. The town passed a resolution allowing the First Selectman to sign applications and agreements to obtain federal funds to defray the costs resulting from the bridge collapse. – See more at: http://connecticuthistory.org/mianus-river-bridge-collapses-today-in-history/#sthash.tqRZYwBP.dpuf

          • not trying to be argumentative but this was along time ago and it was a instant closing with no prep for the traffic load. but does anyone think that NOT repairing our bridges over the river an option? and if it is an option where should the traffic go?

            • Which bridge? The bridge over 95, or the Cribari Bridge? Repairing the Cribari bridge, as part of an effort to preserve it, would be probably a welcome effort. The repair of the 95 bridge is just an effort on the part Malloy to disperse $100 billion to his friends and supporters. Unfortunately, the Cribari bridge has been swept up in the effort to spend $ 100 billion.

              Those who have boats up river from the Cribari Bridge were well aware of the bridge’s existence, and the limitations on navigation it presented, when they chose to locate up river. I do not think that accommodating boat traffic should be a major consideration when determining the fate of the Cribari bridge.

              I do not know how you would put in place plans to handle 80,000 to 90,000 additional vehicles per day and avoid a major economic catastrophe for Westport and Saugatuck.

              • i guess all three bridges including the metro north which is in the worst shape imho. what ive been saying is if the swing bridge is to be removed for either refurbish or replace should the height under the bridge be taking into consideration?

              • Michael – The 80,000-90,000 vehicles per day ONLY occurred between the time the bridge collapsed (so there were no Northbound lanes open on I-95) until they were able to install the temporary replacement span reopening I-95 Northbound while the bridge was rebuilt. It is unlikely that anyone contemplates a complete shutdown of I-95 under the proposed plans for repairs, etc. If anything, the proposed repairs should get ahead of a collapse of the bridge which would cause the headache of complete diversion of traffic.

                Having said that, lane closures during reconstruction could result in some folks choosing alternative routes just like occurs today when there are accidents, but not of the magnitude you suggest.

                • jerry; perhaps someone should ask the DOT about their plans with respect to lane closures on 95 during construction, and get an estimate of how many additional vehicles will end up in Westport.