[OPINION] A Conversation About The Cribari Bridge

Frank Accardi moved to Westport in 1993. He’s seen a lot — and spent a lot of time by (and on) the William F. Cribari Bridge. He writes:

At this time of year, out-of-town holiday guests pile into cars. We take them to the beach, Longshore, and all those other lovely places in this town we call home.

Lunching downtown, they get a view of the river. A bit of Main Street shopping is on the agenda too.

Local friends are introduced all around: kind, friendly and warm-hearted.

We drive by parks and the library, modern schools and old churches, bike paths and boat slips. Inevitably, guests fall in love with the town just as we have.

Sometimes they get a chance to literally ride through history.

We tell them: The oldest hand-cranked open span bridge in the state is after the next light.

It’s on the National Registry of Historic places.

Reflections on the Cribari Bridge (Photo/Tom Wambach)

The turn is made. The chatter quiets.

The bridge is just ahead. Just as quickly, the short span is crossed .

But it is inevitable that they see what we see every day.

The dents, the rusty disrepair and desuetude, all made sadder by the brightness of Al DiGuido’s lights and the generosity of his spirit.

Thankful that no one experienced an oncoming landscaping truck at the same time, conversation eventually picks up.

But never about the bridge.

You want to explain that there is history, engineering, boats and truck traffic patterns to consider. But you don’t.

Safely at home, someone takes you aside and says, “Maybe from now on you should go the long way around, son.”

You say, “Don’t worry. I’m sure they will figure it all out soon.”

Won’t they ?

43 responses to “[OPINION] A Conversation About The Cribari Bridge

  1. Perhaps you’d feel safer with a 4 lane on the bridge, Mr. Accardi; and maybe continue it up Bridge St. to Compo; don’t need all those houses anyhow.
    OR, in the alternative, if the landscape trucks are so threatening to you, get a smaller car and take fewer friends at a time across.

  2. I agree….. any “guest” who doesn’t like the character of the bridge should go the long way around.
    Problem solved son.
    You must have been be so embarrassed…

  3. I purposely drive my out of town guests over the bridge during the holidays at night, and not once has anyone observed “The dents, the rusty disrepair and desuetude, all made sadder by the brightness of Al DiGuido’s lights and the generosity of his spirit.”

    Quite the opposite. It’s magic at night during the holidays.

    But here’s the more important test – the vista of the Saugatuck and the bridge during the daytime is very pleasing; MY guests all seem to think it’s very charming, as I do. And driving across it only engages you within the charm and small town character. I dare say looking out across the river there, or driving across the bridge, would be devoid of any character and would not be at all pleasing or memorable if this was a bland, mindless and sterile concrete bridge like some kind of little brother to the 95 span.

    If that were so, you would simplu drive across, no faster than now, without any modicum of enrichment from the journey; and the vista across the river there would look like . . . anywhere else in the US. I prefer the highly unique and charming version we are fortunate to have in Westport – thankfully not “anytown USA”.

    • Danielle Dobin

      Well this almost never happens…I agree with everything Jack said!

      From the “It’s magic at night during the holidays” to the daytime experience.

      Despite Waze re-routing everyone and everything onto our local roads, this historic bridge has protected our residents, pedestrians, commuters and businesses in Saugatuck from gridlocked 18-wheelers throughout the area. Magical, indeed!

      Frank – I would be delighted to chat in person to hear more about your perspective. I would also welcome the opportunity to share why I believe so strongly in preserving the Cribari Bridge.

  4. Keep it forever for so many reasons. For one: Might be the only place in town where people slow down!

  5. Valerie DiPrato

    The Bridge is beautiful and charming all year – but especially during the holidays with Al’s lights ablaze. One of my favorite vistas in town. I know a few friends who decided to move to Westport once they took the turn onto the bridge and over the river. IMO – It is part of our history and a great visual introduction to our town.

  6. Michael Calise

    Stay on the east side of the river and show them the million dollar bathroom at Compo. I am sure they will be impressed and you will feel less insecure.

  7. Richard Fogel

    how many churches have christmas lights?

    • Not sure.
      Perhaps there is a concern that you may accuse them of not caring about climate change and future generations…

      • Richard Fogel

        please consider researching the affects Christmas has on the enviornment

      • Andrew Colabella

        It’s not only a historic bridge nationally, but to all those who have lived here and visited, it’s something that we all remember and can not wait to see when we do come back home.

        I sit on the Cribari PAC Bridge Committee as an RTM Representative. I stand with those who want to preserve and keep the same bridge and style with its height and weight restrictions.

        That area of Saugatuck would not be able to handle 18 wheelers with 53’ standard box trailers coming through the quaint Saugatuck community. The roads are too narrow for making the turn from any direction onto the bridge even IF they put a new bridge in to meet the needs of tractor trailers.

        The new bridge would open and create new headaches to please those who use waze and town residents. The bridge will not correct any traffic issues. It is still single lane roads in both directions with intersections 500 feet from one another.

        Protect the bridge. Restore it. Maintain it to reduce further failure and instead of fixing it and forgetting it waiting for it to breakdown again and use those issues as an example to benefit why the state should replace it.

        The bridge was here before many of us, and should remain long after.

    • An article that applies is Dark Environmental Affects of our Christmas season, Barry Cotton, Dec 14 2018

      • Yep, I called it.
        Isn’t it strange how well I know you without knowing you…

        • By the way, today is Pearl Harbor Day…
          I can’t help but think about how many Polar Bears may have been affected by the horrible event.

  8. Werner Liepolt

    It’s good to see the universal appreciation Westporters share for the aesthetics and history imbued in the Cribari Bridge.

    As for the care and attention the Cribari Bridge wants, take all concerns to CTDOT. They should be conserving the National Historic Structure to a higher standard.

  9. It’s not the oldest operable bridge of its type in the state.
    It’s the oldest operable bridge of its type in the nation.

    • How amazing to know that this is the only one of its type of bridge in the nation!!! Not just Connecticut. Don’t live in Westport anympre and haven’t for decades but that bridge was a huge part of our lives in function and in beauty. I remember dents , rusty spots and uneven wooden planks way back in the 60s.

      I pray Westporters can stay safe and use the iconic bridge. Why do large trucks need to use that route? I remember larger routes into town. Westport isn’t that big. But again, I’m not fighting daily traffic there.

      Isnt the population still around 26k? Don’t think the numbers were much different in the 60s.

  10. We were having dinner one night at what is now Rainbow Thai when the bridge opened – we had ringside seats to the show! It was beautiful with AA’s lighting – dings, dents and all.

  11. How terrific it is that this item generated so many supportive and lovely comments in support of preserving the Cribari Bridge. The issue remains before the Town, i.e. the CT DOT, and all need to be alert to make sure our bridge, as Morley Boyd points out, remains “the oldest operable bridge of its type in the nation”.
    Don Bergmann

  12. Michael Alpert

    I honestly don’t see the appeal at all. A replacement bridge that is wider and safer could still maintain a similar shape/structure. Lights could even be strung up. Beyond time to move on, IMHO

  13. I want to thank all the commenters for their thoughtful ,measured and helpful replies.
    I had hoped that this apocryphal vignette would be a benign way to make a simple observation.
    If you have a treasure, preserve it ,protect it ,repair it & maintain it as best you can.
    I apologize to any and all who were offended as that was not my intention.
    Nor do I in any way wish to add to the specious narrative of Westport as an enclave of self indulgence.
    If there is a privilege involved it is raising a family in this gracious and generous community.

  14. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    The Cribari Bridge is wonderful in its own right. It protects the environment of the area in many ways. Hopefully everyone will stay alert and continue to protect the bridge from carelessness and a lack of concern for its historical importance. Morley is correct, it is the oldest operating bride of its type in the Nation. The possibility of a replacement as reported by Mr. Liepolt is a nightmare. Besides, I still think that my husband proposed to me almost 55 years ago because he witnessed the bridge opening the first time he visited my family.

  15. Arline Gertzoff

    The bridge is part of Westport’s history.136 is a state road .A new bridge would mean 18 wheelers and nobody would even think about slowing down.The holiday lights are magical….Lest we forget December 7,1941 is the “day that will live in infamy”My late parents told me the poignant story how they were at the original Fine Arts watching Sargent York when the projector was abruptly stopped for the radio broadcast.

  16. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    The bridge is great and learning to safely navigate across it is a Westport right of passage for newly minted drivers.

  17. Is Frank a Dan pseudonym? No way anyone tells anyone to take the long way vs taking in the bridge lights and river. It’s an iconic Westport experience and NO ONE cares if the bridge has dents or bolts are worn. One of the sillier “opinion” pieces I’ve seen on 06880.

    • No, Frank is not a “Dan pseudonym.” I post everything under my own name.

      Is “Post” a pseudonym for “posting” a comment? One of the sillier “comment” pieces I’ve seen on 06880.

  18. Wendy Crowther

    Three years ago I wrote a piece about the Cribari Bridge that Dan published in 06880. Entitled “It’s a Wonderful Bridge,” it drew comparisons between our bridge and the one that appears in the iconic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

    https://06880danwoog.com/2016/12/14/its-a-wonderful-bridge/

    The good news is that, three years later, the bridge is still standing and is still warming hearts, especially at this time of year when it is bedecked with Al’s angelic lights.

    However, its fate still hangs in the balance. The state DOT continues to compile reports and consider its options. Destruction/replacement remains its preferred option but my Westport Preservation Alliance colleagues and I continue to press for its repair and conservation.

    Near the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey runs through his hometown streets on Christmas Eve. As he passes its familiar places he yells out fondly, “Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan.”

    In Westport, we no longer have a movie house. We no longer have most of our former mom and pop shops. But after 135 Christmases, we still have our bridge.

    Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Cribari bridge!

  19. Robbie Guimond

    Lots of star glazed eyes seeing the lights on this old bridge. I sit at my window enjoying it as I type (surely to be corrected by Werner). BUT… many of the comments are misleading to what Morley calls the “low information” crowd.
    Concerning the truck argument, Gault’s 18 wheeler travels over this bridge daily. The problem is the restricted height is going up from 12′ 8″ to 14′ in the near future, because of the infamous “sagging electrical box”. This is not debatable … its happening and EVERYONE on the PAC meeting got the same info from the D.O.T.

    We also saw no plans for a four lane anything. Werner actually posted the “On alignment concept” remember its just a concept but If you want the info it’s available. Although, it would be great to get to South Compo safely with the kiddos on our bikes.

    This town really could be better to pedestrians. I was walking with my girls to Bridge Sq onThanksgiving eve and it was insane with traffic, even the traffic officer yelled across the street ” its not a good time to be walking!” made me sad.
    One concept does propose a 3ft+/- height increase so the vistas that Jack talks of are safe and some might say improved not to mention the river benefits. Yes jack me too.
    One thing is clear its not universally appreciated, like Werner claims. I’ve been on the barge at the SAGA /Metro North bridge the last few days and the marine certified bridge engineer specialist mentioned the two bridges on our river were in worse shape than the walk bridge in Norwalk, he laughed at the idea of a “resurrection” and its fiscal silliness. 20 years maybe if they patch it up, he stated. I believe Andrew can corroborate from his PAC member privilege $20m for 20 years of service or $40m for 75 to 100 years .

    This kind of thing is talked about quietly as not a lot of pro replacement community members want to deal with the wrath. But I was glad to hear at the final PAC meeting, smart sensible ideas. I’d venture to guess, a year after its replacement, the consensus would be “why did we wait so long?” Just ask Mr. DeStefano.

  20. Dr Frank E Accardi

    I want to make it clear that I wrote the piece in its entirety.
    I am sorry Dan took some hits for my work.
    It was supposed to be an easier way to have a hard discussion.
    There is a tremendous amount of sentimental ,romantic and local historic value in this bridge. It holds a very special place in the hearts of many long time residents . It is ,in fact , a town treasure.
    However it is not at all unreasonable to wonder if dents and dings are symptomatic of deeper issues.
    The bridge is well over 100 years old and apparently has been restored four times with multiple repairs over the years. Only in recent memory has the bridge been stuck in the open position twice. The back up mechanism is aging .
    The article is simply asking why things are as they are in the least threatening way I thought possible.
    For the second time I apologize if anyone was offended by my approach to this issue.
    However ,public discourse ,especially in this town deserves as much thoughtful and well intentioned input as possible.
    The rare exceptions to the contrary are thankfully few but reflect poorly on all of us.
    Again many thanks to all who have contributed to help me understand where the community stands on this issue.
    Frank Accardi MD

    • Werner Liepolt

      You can encourage CTDOT to repair the Cribari Bridge in an historically conservative way by contacting project officials via the Cribari project web page.

      https://portal.ct.gov/DOT/Bridges/Project-Pages/Project-No-158214

      You can review the history of the bridge and its almost 50 year long preservation movement at the following link.

      https://preservewestport.com/bridge-history/

      You can support and join with others concerned with environment, growth, traffic and related issues throughout Westport by joining an organization such as Save Westport Now.

      https://www.savewestportnow.org/

      • Dr Frank E Accardi

        Thanks ,but I would not consider having written a
        word without proper background research.
        I am neither a preservationist nor an advocate for replacement but only interested in a safe ,usable and long term solution.
        It appears that the solution is stalled and debate continues.
        If history can be safely preserved that is wonderful , but if more modern engineering technology is the only feasible answer for a safe and functional future for the bridge so be it .
        No rancor , no recriminations just a scientific straightforward approach to problem solving.
        Employ traffic restrictions , urban planning , route construction alterations and whatever else engineers can employ to get a fair and desired outcome. Compromise is inevitable but this bridge and this town is begging for a sensible , safe and solid solution .
        We deserve no less will and should accept no less.
        Yet it lingers.
        Have a great holiday to all our neighbors.

    • Robbie Guimond

      No need for an apology , your insight is valuable and welcomed, the preservationists twist the narrative often in a skewed direction imho and beat anyone who presents a different perspective over the head…. so I applaud the risk you took.

      The thing that stands out in all this was Mr. DeStefano’s statement at the town hall meeting, he personally spear headed support for the rehab option in the 90’s project when they were forced to replace the entire bridge and plop the old truss on top to satisfy preservationist . He was very convincing when he said in hindsight it was a mistake. Very telling.

    • Yo, Doc,
      I don’t think there was a single offensive sentence or intention in your thoughtful, if off the mark piece, and I would be surprised if ANY of the “rebuttals” was composed by an “offended” resident…..your piece is what you think and that should offend no one.

  21. Mr. Guimond , if you weren’t so insulting and didn’t come off as so arrogant and self righteous
    Maybe more people would support your
    View point but you are obviously only interested in the bridge being redone for your own ministry interest. The Saugatuck community sees right thru you and laughs at your comment -you are no authority lol

    • Robbie Guimond

      I’m not a Politician. I’m not trying to get people to agree with me because they like me. I truly believe the bridge is failing and needs to be addressed.
      I’m passionate about this project because I live and work on the river and my family uses the bridge daily.

      Insulting people is not my m.o. and it certainly doesn’t contribute to the conversation. I’m sorry my posts make you feel uncomfortable.

      I didnt mean to imply I’m an authority on bridges, but unlike most people here I’m hands on with the bridges. I open it, I’m under it, and now I’m working on the SAGA bridge, the walk bridge and most likely working on the Cribari when they choose an option.

  22. Robbie Guimond

    Sneak? LOL …never been called that before. Your personal opinion on my ability to work and provided for my family I find interesting as well. YOU work on the river? I doubt it. once again this isn’t constructive or helpful to the conversation .

  23. Keep protecting the bridge!