State To Town: You Want The Cribari Bridge? Pay For It.

The state Department of Transportation’s environmental assessment report on the William F. Cribari Bridge will be released next month.

But Deputy Commissioner Mark Rolfe has told 1st Selectman Jim Marpe that its conclusion — and the DOT’s recommendation — is to replace the bridge with a new structure that meets Federal Highway Administration standards.

Many Westporters — fearing traffic on a bigger, new span — have pushed instead for renovation of the 133-year-old structure.

However, Rolfe offered Marpe an alternative: The state could transfer ownership of the bridge to the town of Westport, and re-route Route 136 (Bridge Street and Compo Road South).

The catch: The town would be responsible for operation, maintenance and repair of the Cribari Bridge.

Is that a bridge too far for Westport?

Stay tuned.

William F. Cribari Bridge: The debate continues. (Photo/Sam Levenson)

47 responses to “State To Town: You Want The Cribari Bridge? Pay For It.

  1. What does “re-routing” the highways mean??? Building another bridge to get them across the water? Signing them up to the Post Road and then back down? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Robbie Guimond

      Re-routing would mean the d.o.t takes new routes on existing roads under control and leaves westport to deal with bridge street , compo etc.

  2. Andrew Colabella

    Disappointed to see that the state has once again wasted our time with PAC meetings, urging representatives of certain entities and interests in town to speak out, to not just fall just on deaf ears, but all along, have an answer for this, regardless of our opinions.

    Why ask a question when you already have the answer? Of course, let’s have a commissioner, not from this area of the state have a word/say, and engineers who want to expand a roadway 200+ feet while the rest of the entire route remains narrow with short tight turns and lowered bridge heights for tractor trailers.

    Widen that bridge, and tractor trailers and off highway traffic will STILL not be able to make the tight turns, low bridge heights and narrow roadways.

    This is far from over.

  3. Ross Burkhardt

    It is a bridge too far. We should be negotiating with the State on the design of the replacement…and on traffic control measures that would limit trucks etc. There are many other town underfunded town priorities that deserve greater attention in our Town Budget.

  4. In the 1980s, when the Cribari bridge was improved, there was a major uproar in town about having a temporary replacement bridge. Once the replacement bridge was in, and being used, when the time came to replace it with the refurbished/improved Cribari bridge, there was – wait for it – a HUGE uproar about removing the much more efficient replacement bridge which people had come to like using.

    • My thoughts exactly,,,THX

      • Funny – I certainly don’t remember any uproar about getting rid of the ugly temporary one. I guess it just depends upon who you are talking with?…

  5. I agree that the state DOT mismanages just about everything it touches, but in this case we’re not talking transportation but a neighborhood amenity for the local community to reduce truck and bus traffic past their homes. (While it adds more congestion to Rt 33 and US1) This is analogous to the unpaved stretch of Newtown Turnpike in Weston between Norfield Rd and the Cobbs Mill Inn. It may be old, but the value is traffic diversion, not historic preservation. So I think it’s entirely fair that DOT hand off the carrying costs to the community that benefits from keeping in there.

  6. Is there a clear $-value of what Westport AND the State of CT currently budget for the annual operation of the bridge? No idea if Westport owns the bridge how much $ we’d be taking on. Helpful just to baseline the discussion. Naturally, there’d be great debate over whether that $ comes out of the current budget, or if an increase in the mill rate would be warranted.

  7. One thought: Westport could preserve the bridge but make it for pedestrian and bike use only. Maintenance would be far cheaper than if it were used for car and truck traffic and it would improve both safety and enjoyment of walking to/from/around Saugatuck and the train station. Then let the state reroute 136. The bridge is an important landmark but clearly a dangerous bottleneck.

    • Ivette Konopka

      Has the idea of preserving the bridge for pedestrian use ever been seriously considered? Or even relocating the bridge to another area for pedestrian use (maybe riverside park)?

      • Robbie Guimond

        I believe some chat about repurposing the historic truss system for a pedestrian bridge at the save the children site was floating around.

        It would be cool to connect the new development to a revived Parker Harding waterfront area and would help the downtown , I think the state is mandated to find a potential repurpose.

        Might be something to look into, although this “out of the box” stuff might be too much for folks.

  8. Or, maybe make it a stationery bridge? But keep the local traffic flowing, bedause Westport needs a bridge across the water for the people in the west end of town. Cutting off the Cribari bridge would increase traffic along the Post Road and Farms, as well as on connecting roads, i.e., Compo South and Imperial Avenues. Not good.

    Plus, it may be years ago, but if I remember correctly, back when the state rehabilitated the bridge, that work was supposed to be a permanent fix.

    What Westport does NOT need is anything that enables more traffic to detour through its residential neighborhoods.

    One may ask about the town’s budgetary priorities, but what about the state’s? How well has Connecticut been managed? I mean, now it’s basically abdicating its responsibility to the town — at least imo — and putting the town between a rock and a hard place, the state has the money to build a huge bridge, but not the money to repair and maintain the small one in question? Go figure the priorities here!

    This pronouncement by the state may or may not be an insult, but it certainly is a disregard of the town and its character and its needs.

  9. Larry Weisman

    The oft stated, undocumented fear that 18 wheelers would rush to use a new an improved bridge is irrational. Where would these trucks go once they exited the bridge in the narrow confines of Saugatuck that they couldn’t access by less problematic means?
    The solutions to that problem are either: a) for the town, which controls Imperial Avenue, Bridge St. and Green’s Farms Road, could and should
    exercise its authority to impose restrictions on truck traffic on those approaches to the bridge; and/or (b) for any new bridge to be designed in such a way as to impose height restrictions.
    No one who wants a safer, more efficient bridge which will accommodate pedestrians and bicycles and move traffic more smoothly, wants to see increased truck traffic in Saugatuck, and there is no reason why that should be the case.

  10. Michael Calise

    re-route 136? Now that sounds like a crapshoot!.

  11. As the plans stand now, though, 18-wheelers could use a “new improved” Cribari bridge to get to Exit 17 to or from any exit north of there. Surely there is enough traffic, and there are enough I-95 delays, that this should be a concern.

    Height restrictions would address the 18-wheelers, but the State has not agreed to that.

    It seems very likely that increasing the number of lanes would be very likely to increase the number of cars on the streets during I-95 delays.

    I wouldn’t think that either option would be something for which the town would want to be at risk.

    Why can’t the state simply repair the bridge? Wouldn’t it be less expensive then building a big new one — even with the maintenance required? Less disruptive during and afterwards to the town’s residential neighborhoods along the Greens Farms/Bridge street artery? Why can’t the state listen to the numbers of people from whom they’ve heard? Have the hearings and the emails and the phone calls of residents all been in vain?

  12. Robbie Guimond

    Every time I read these comments I realize so many want to be heard but are either ill informed or unwilling to review the states website for the project, it answers so many of the “Why’s” and even allows some food for thought.

    Any comment that the state did not listen or hear the p.a.c meetings or public scoping comments is far from the truth. You might of been more vocal instead of a “seat filler” for political gain.

    If you want to keep the bridge dig in your pocket and pay for it, my guess is it will include roads as well as bridge maintenance and in 20 years will need to be replaced anyway on your dime, good luck with that bill. (40m and counting ….keep delaying)

    All the removal of funding and truck traffic hype is ridiculous. How many times do you have to see Gaults truck go over it to realize its CURRENT configuration allows tractor trailers and soon 13’+ tractor trailers and still they don’t come.

    A strong effort for some input on design of this possible replacement would be prudent.

    While administration seems to have kicked the can on restricting large trucks , Mr. Weismann is spot on , re-read his article and his comments.

    Side note, army corp was taking mud samples for analysis last week… dredging of the river is coming.

    Hope everyone is well in these trying times.

  13. David J. Loffredo

    With the mass influx of New Yorkers, the Saugatuck area is on the verge of becoming a crown jewel for Westport. Look at all the new homes on Treadwell, Sunrise, and Hogan Trail – selling before they’re even complete. People from city love the proximity to some action, and eventually once again to the train.

    This is Saugatuck’s time, to right the wrong of plowing I-95 thru the middle of it. The town should take control of the bridge, preserve the community, let it develop into more of a residential and commercial center, and keep the 18 Wheelers on the Post Road and RTE 33 and the Connector – if that’s their path.

  14. Is there still any commerce that requires shipping up river of the Cribari Bridge?

    • Jaime Bairaktaris

      There’s the family-owned marina just up-river from the bridge, as well as the Rowing Club whose guide boats cannot fit beneath it at high tide, as well as pleasure boaters who live on the river.

  15. Hello everyone. Thanks for weighing in and, Dan, thanks for using my picture again.

    As you may surmise, I live a stones throw from the bridge and, as such, I’d like to share a few observations.

    First, on “bad” I-95 days when there is an accident or significant traffic (particularly pre-Covid), the traffic that diverts to Greens Farms Road/Bridge Street backs up the intersecting streets. I live on Imperial Avenue and *my driveway is blocked.* You read that correctly. I cannot leave my home if something happens on I-95. And that is before we turn the Cribari bridge into a more effective bypass for the interstate.

    Second, the clear implications of replacing the bridge to current highway standards absolutely guarantees more traffic – into what is arguably the only successful commercial district in Westport (Saugatuck), bringing increased air, street and water pollution to our neighborhood and significantly diminishing quality of life. I served on the Saugatuck Transport Oriented Design committee for the Town. We put a lot of effort into designing what could potentially be a very welcoming district over the next decade. I am hopeful that Saugatuck will continue to develop into a family friendly and, largely traffic free, community.

    Third, it is important to understand what this community is already dealing with. When commuting to NYC was important (say the last 40 years, except the last 12 months), we were left to deal with everyone *racing” down Imperial Avenue past school bus stops because they were late for the train. And then, we got to experience it again every evening. The current traffic burden is not inconsequential and, to be frank, there is very little respect for the health and safety of our kids by drivers passing our homes. Again, this is *before* it gets worse.

    Last, if the Cribari bridge is replaced, if traffic increases – particularly commercial traffic – it will harm our community, it will harm our health, it will harm our home values. Raise your hand if you want commercial traffic idling in front of your house. Really. Think about it. It is a reality here in Saugatuck.

    Please. Stop and think about those of us who live here. This is a real issue, not a theoretical one.

    Now, let’s debate the idea of the Town taking on the maintenance cost. I am not an expert here but, lets say it costs $2.5 million/year to maintain the bridge and we have, say, 25,000 residents, then it costs each of us $8/month. That’s less than your Netflix or Hulu subscription let alone your Starbucks or your kids horseback lessons.

    Maybe my math is off. Maybe it’s two, three or four times as much. Judging by how fast $1 million dollar cottages are being plowed over for McMansions, I don’t see how the Town taking on the maintenance cost and passing it on to residents will be a significant burden. Really. Most residents spend more per month at Coffee ‘An.

    If I may, I ask everyone to really consider what is at stake for the hundreds of Westport neighbors who will be harmed by a substantive increase in traffic. It’s one thing to opine from afar. It’s another to have to live with it.

    Thanks for listening.

  16. If Westport has any hope of maintaining and furthering itself as a COMMUNITY of folks who give a shit about one another, then Levenson is giving us the important heads up…let’s keep it in mind as the argument progresses.

  17. 30 years ago as a 12 year old, I wrote a letter to the editor at the Westport News in favor of saving the bridge. It saddened me that one of the most iconic visuals in Westport could potentially be gone forever. The bridge has been able to hang on for another 3 decades and Westport is clearly at a very important juncture in deciding which direction to head. There are many good points from all sides, however I think everyone needs to remember how nostalgia can cloud even the best of intentions when grappling with progress vs. preservation. I’ve been in California for several years now, but haven’t forgotten what it’s like to live in Saugatuck and all of the challenges that traffic can pose on a daily basis. Given the 2020 boom of incoming residents, with many more sure to follow, the demand for congruency on this topic has never been greater. I believe there is a real opportunity to work out a proposal that balances design, safety, innovation and aesthetics to bring this spans of the river into the next generation. Funny, as my opinion even just a day ago was very different, but after much thought, I was reminded of this quote; “There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” If there’s one thing for certain though, Mr. Cribari’s name should most definitely remain.

  18. To keep it simple, I think we should conduct an in depth exploration of accepting the offer of taking the bridge over. Jim Marpe understands numbers and negotiation and I think we may be able work a deal whereby the state does the repair now and we assume/ pay for the maintenance going forward. To dismiss the idea without a full analysis would be a disservice to all of us. ( I’m with you Sam ) .

  19. Donald Bergmann

    I look forward to, expect a joint effort by our Board of Selectmen, our P&Z Commission, our BoF and our RTM to prevent the tragedy of the replacement of the Cribari Bridge. I have many thoughts, but first want to hear the initial thinking of our elected decision makers and funding bodies. I also expect our State and Federal representatives to join in the effort to save the Cribari Bridge.
    Don Bergmann

  20. If the town pays, the cost should be borne solely by those who want to preserve the bridge, not the broader town which includes many people who support a proper replacement.

    Westport has I-95, Merritt, and Routes 1, 33, 57, 136, etc. It is an unrealistic expectation to have a “traffic free” Westport, especially now with everyone using GPS. If you want to live in an area without congestion, I hear there are some nice homes in remote Litchfield Hills.

  21. David J Loffredo

    That’s a great idea Rob – I think the same should go with the schools and we should take the BOE budget and divide it by the number of kids in each school and send their parents an invoice.

    • Not sure if you’re serious, or simply trying to highlight a flaw in my logic, but I respectfully disagree with your comment. I have no kids, but I am more than happy to pay for our strong school system through my property taxes because a strong school system helps all of our property/resale values, throughout the entire town. In contrast, that bridge has zero impact on our property/resale values.

      I’m approaching this from a fairness / return on investment standpoint.

      • Rob, first of all, I disagree with your original premise. A strong, vibrant, walkable Saugatuck benefits every Westporter’s property values.

        But are you also saying that the only lens to look at any decision is through its impact on property tax/resale values? Wow.

        • I don’t see how a new, wider, modernized, state-funded bridge affects the “walkability” of Saugatuck. Specifically, I didn’t think a widening of Riverside Ave (and other roads) was on the table. There are many traffic lights that affect traffic flow, so I would not anticipate any traffic increase. In other words, widening a bridge, without widening all of the other streets, will NOT increase traffic (it’s physically impossible — there’s only so much throughput that can flow through those streets). And frankly, if there’s a lot of slow-moving traffic in Saugatuck, it’ll make walking even easier because it’ll be easier to cross the street.

          I think increased traffic in Saugatuck will help promote those wonderful businesses. Think about it: while someone is stuck in traffic, they’ll look out the window and see a wonderful butcher shop and bakery, and maybe go there and buy stuff. The beauty of a new bridge, and increased traffic, is that it’ll help sustain those businesses and drive new customers to them. Those businesses cannot thrive from income from local residents only.

          • Saugatuck is overrun with traffic whenever there is an incident on 95. A wider bridge would attract even more traffic — including bigger trucks.

      • Rob,

        Heavy commercial traffic caused by a new bridge built to current highway standards (as the State will require), idling in front of our homes, spewing fumes and more does impact real estate values.

        That is indisputable.


        • What data do you have to show that a bridge in this location built to highway standards will cause “heavy commercial traffic”?

          • Larry, I can share my experience and observations living as I do very close to the bridge. Backups on I-95 generates traffic on Greens Farms Road (where my office is – I overlook the street), and on Bridge Street as traffic moves to secondary routes. As I noted above, it is not uncommon for the traffic to then back up on intersecting roads, such as Imperial Avenue (where I live).

            That is today – when the Cribari bridge is not built to allow large commercial vehicles due to the lower than current standard overhead clearance and road width. Replacing the bridge with a span that meets current standards would no longer prevent larger commercial vehicles from using the span. It stands to reason then that those vehicles – just like all the other vehicles utilizing the span to bypass the highway – will take advantage of it.

            The data does not yet exist as, today, it is not an option. Let’s not make it one.

            Relatedly, I think the argument, presented above, that creating standstill traffic in Saugatuck is a good thing in that it may drive more business does not hold water. Seriously? We want to promote out of town traffic to pass through Saugatuck making it an inhospitable place for Westporters to live and visit?

            • Robbie Guimond

              Sam, do you think a no thru truck ban like in Rowayton would be effective and resolve the issue?

              • Robbie, you’ve hit upon an important point that has been, and needs to be, considered. Much of the bypass traffic exits I-95 southbound at exit 18 and takes Greens Farms Road/Bridge Street to rejoin the highway at exit 17. The idea of a “no left turn” from the Sherwood Island Connector to GFR during rush hours has been floated. My understanding is that the Town may not have that option due to State versus Town owned/maintained roads. If 136 is rerouted, this may be a solution.

                I’m not a traffic engineer or versed on the rules of public ways but it could certainly be helpful – so long as the traffic doesn’t take Post to Hillspoint or Post to South Compo or Post to Imperial and end up on the Cribari Bridge anyway.

                Seems easier to manage the bridge than to manage multiple routes to the bridge.

                Also query how a “no thru truck” ban would be enforced. As is plainly evident, there is little enforcement of speeding in Town. And, with the skyrocketing popularity of delivery in this pandemic, the infiltration of trucks has also become evident and, I suspect, it would be hard to police which is a loca delivery versus a thru truck. Unfortunately.

                • Robbie Guimond

                  Interesting points Sam and thanks for serving on the T.O.D committee .

                  Have you or the T.O.D committee ever look at the north bound evening rush flow and how to get the vehicles out of saugatuck center, riverside and treadwell ave across the bridge to the homes on the east side? As I recall the temp bridge successfully resolved alot of that PM congestion.

                  I think its a stretch to say owning and maintaining this old bridge and only to leave our kids with the 50m+ bill to replace it in 15 or 20 is less difficult then signage and oversight by a very capable PD.

                  I can tell you 1st hand as the truck I drive is 73k and I come thru rowayton as a local delivery cdl truck with no issue but the OTR tractors were gone the day after the ban.

                  I love to get for more info out on all of this. The public will have a chance to speak again so “all hands on deck” looking for a compromise will be critical .

  22. I’m with you 110% Rob. People aren’t moving here for legacies or the oft mentioned Westport `crown jewels’. A new and younger regime doesn’t care. Time to move on.

  23. Control of the bridge’s future is exactly what so many of you were asking for. Now that the wish comes with a price tag, instead of making the rest of the state pay to keep trucks out of your back yards, you are balking? What’s the point of being a rich town if you act like every expense is going to send it into bankruptcy? it’s not. Own it or back off and let the state maintain its infrastructure.

  24. To me it’s like buying a used car. The dealer must sell you a car in good condition and they give an extended limited warranty. The state could repair the bridge for the $2 or $3 million it will cost, warranty the major work for the next 20 years . We take over a limited part of the maintenance and gradually the entire maintenance over the next 20 years . The cost of repair I’ve cited is what the state has estimated and they also know it will last at least 20 years . However, when the state repairs or rebuilds infrastructure they work toward a 75 year life span. The state has already secured 80% of the $40M funding from the federal gov. The other 20% is the responsibility of the state. What’s interesting is that once the state secures the federal funding it is not obligated to spend it on the designated project. Let’s run some numbers.

    • Robbie Guimond

      Cathy, what happens when it floods ?

    • Bill Strittmatter

      I suppose that might be true if the State were selling the bridge to the Town with some implicit guarantee that it is in good condition. But it’s not in good condition and the Town doesn’t want them to repair it to the State’s standards.

      So offering it up for free to the Town to deal with it as it see’s fit sounds like quite the generous offer. And free usually is as-is, where-is.

      Even used car dealers can sell cars for less that $3,000 “As-Is” and without warranty in Connecticut. Free is certainly less than $3,000.

  25. Might be hard for some Wesporter’s to grasp the idea that the replacement of the Cribari Saugatuck Bridge will be one of the most important public projects that will happen in Westport in the next 20 years or so.

    The historic significance and asthetic of the bridge and the river should and must be maintained! The traffic and related issues need to be solved and improved for Westport and it’s residents and businesses not the state!

    To rely on the State and it’s agencies to do that IS A MISTAKE!

    A new state designed and built bridge will solve only the bridge longevity and transit issues. It will create other huge issues and shortcomings that will negatively affect the qualiry of life in Westport!

    Saving the current route of Route 136 is not a big problem especially when the state has already shown that they are very willing to consider partial re-routing.

    Keeping the look and feel of the Cribari Bridge and slightly improveing features of the bridge for restricted size vehicles and improving the look of the Saugatuck River for residents and especially Saugatuck Village businesses is paramount!