Category Archives: Transportation

BREAKING NEWS: Cribari Bridge Solution May Be At Hand

For years, the state Department of Transportation has pushed for a major renovation of the William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

For just as long, Westporters and town officials have pushed back. They fear that modernizing and widening the 2-lane span over the Saugatuck River would draw traffic — including 18-wheelers — off I-95, whenever there is an accident or delay on the nearby highway.

A solution appears to have been found.

And it’s a creative one.

The William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

According to State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, the DOT is prepared to reroute Route 136. Right now, 136 includes North and South Compo Roads, and Bridge Street, through Saugatuck and on out to Saugatuck Avenue headed toward Norwalk.

Under the new plan, Route 136 would join the Post Road (also US1) at the North Compo intersection. It would head over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown, then go south on Riverside Avenue (also known as Route 33), and on toward Saugatuck Avenue.

Thus, the Cribari Bridge would no longer be a state road.

DOT has agreed to do repair work on the bridge — but not a major renovation.

When repairs are finished, DOT would hand the bridge over to the town. Westport would own it — and be responsible for ongoing and future maintenance.

The bridge and environs would no longer be Route 136.

The plan was described to a bipartisan group of state legislators from the area — Steinberg, State Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang, and State Representative Gail Lavielle — by state DOT officials, including commissioner James Redeker. DOT wanted the legislators’ input, before presenting it to 1st selectman Jim Marpe.

[NOTE: An earlier version of this story described — based on a source — the meeting as a “negotiation.” It was an informational meeting only.]

“It’s not cost-free to the town,” Steinberg admits. “But once in a while we come up with creative solutions that work for everyone.”

He gives credit to the DOT. “If they weren’t on board, we’d still be battling this out,” Steinberg says.

Marpe notes, “The concept has just been presented to me. I’m working with my staff to understand the short-term and long-term implications — including finances and public safety — to the proposal. It’s certainly an alternative that needs to be seriously considered.”

John Suggs Joins 1st Selectman Race

The 1st selectman race just got more crowded.

John Suggs has announced his candidacy for Westport’s top spot. The independent — running against Republican incumbent Jim Marpe and Democratic challenger Melissa Kane — plans a 3-pronged platform.

Suggs stresses “advocacy, common sense solutions and a nonpartisan approach.”

As a Representative Town Meeting member for 10 years, Suggs cites his leadership roles on school safety, open space and protecting neighborhoods.

A 25-year professional in asset management analysis, public policy and community development, Suggs currently works in forensic genetic genealogy. His Family Orchard business helps adult adoptees search for and reunite with their birth families.

John Suggs

Suggs says he is running as an independent because “I want to represent all of Westport — not merely the interests of any single party or constituency. In times of toxic, partisan politics, where politicians will say just about anything, true or untrue, to gain an advantage, I will always tell you the truth.”

He wants Westporters to “roll up our sleeves and work harder, smarter, better to reduce traffic congestion, sustain the quality of our schools, revitalize downtown and fill empty storefronts, and preserve our property values.”

Suggs says that local elected officials cost Westport taxpayers money as they “endlessly study our problems with exorbitant fees paid to outside consultants.”

He pledges to “place a moratorium on expensive studies, roll back onerous traffic control measures that aren’t working, refurbish (not replace) the Compo Beach pavilion, and restore (not destroy) the Cribari Bridge in Saugatuck.”

Suggs was born and raised in California. With a BA in political science from Loyola Marymount University, an MS in management and systems from New York University and an MBA from Fordham University, he has served as a public policy director, affordable housing advocate, history teacher and Jesuit seminarian.

He and his wife moved to Westport in 2003 with newborn twins, in large part for the schools. Suggs is an active Assumption Church parishioner, and volunteered as a Little League baseball and basketball coach. For 5 years, the Suggses have been a host family for A Better Chance scholars.

“Despite my long record of working on behalf of the town, I am starting the race as the underdog, going up against both established political parties,” Suggs tells “06880.”

“But having talked — and more importantly, listened — one on one to so many people these past few months, I know that my message to Westporters that we must not allow ourselves to get dragged down into the finger-pointing and blame game of toxic partisan politics by both parties resonates deeply for people across the entire political spectrum.”

He adds, “These next few years will be full of difficult challenges for all Westporters, at the state and federal level.” He urges residents to “put aside partisan bickering and pull together as one community, using our common sense to find our own best solutions to navigate through.”

Among the “common sense solutions” Suggs advocates is “fine-tuning traffic controls to mitigate traffic backups.” Adding 3 seconds to a green arrow helps clear 7 more cars from congested intersections, he says.He’d also restore right turn on red at downtown intersections.

Suggs wants to “adaptively reuse valuable town-owned assets” rather than build new ones. He believes “perfectly sound empty buildings” could be converted to new uses like municipal offices, homes for non-profits and senior housing.

“Let’s listen to our residents when they resoundingly no (or yes),” Suggs says. From railroad parking and replacing the Compo pavilion to funding schools, “local politicians should never presume” to tell Westporters what to believe. The 1st selectman should be “an honest broker to ensure all Westporters have a say, and are satisfied that decisions are being made fairly and honestly.”

Josh Suggs wants to save the William F. Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River.

He describes his past advocacy efforts as leading the campaign to “save the Cribari Bridge, and protect Saugatuck and Greens Farms from 18-wheelers”; fighting to restore “critical education funding” to the budget; organzing an effort to preserve nearly 6 acres of endangered land as a state archaeological preserve; being an early and strong proponent of a blighted property ordinance; helping revise guidelines that are now “free and fair to both proponents and opponents of future sanitary sewer extensions,” and leading the campaign to stop construction of a driveway from the Barnes & Noble shopping center onto South Morningside Drive, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School.

Recently, Suggs says, partisan politics has seeped down from national and state levels, “influencing substantive policy decison in our so-called nonpartisan RTM.”

He concludes, “I’ve always been true to my convictions. I’ve entered this race not just to win, but to represent the whole community, encouraging greater civic involvement that will lead to a better Westport.”

(For more information, click here.)

Proof That There Really Aren’t Enough Parking Spaces At Compo

Yesterday evening, this was the scene at the Compo Beach boat launch:

With the BMW parked right — a foot or two next to the very clear “No Parking” sign — there’s no telling how many boaters were inconvenienced.

But hey. That’s their problem, right?

Westport’s 1st $10 Parking Lot Is Open For Business

Everybody’s talking about how much to charge for Compo Beach parking.

Fortunately, with two exceptions — the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms train stations — every other parking spot in Westport has been free.

Until now.

Last night I went to The ‘Port. Between that popular new restaurant and Bartaco, there’s now a great lively scene on the west bank of the Saugatuck River.

Sure, parking in the closest lot is tight. With the removal of some spots from behind the old Save the Children building, it’s tougher.

Of course, there’s always been the 3-level parking deck, a few steps away across Wilton Road.

Spots are also available next to the deck, by the office building at 11 Wilton Road. A semi-hidden sign warns “Reserved Parking 24 hours a day/7 days a week/Violators will be towed at Vehicle Owner’s expense.”

That deters most drivers. They simply head into the adjacent garage.

But tonight a teenage boy stopped everyone who entered. He charged $10 to park in the “reserved” lot.

And the lower level of the parking deck was chained shut.

He told drivers they could use the top levels of the deck — though they quickly filled up.

He said his father owned the reserved lot. He added that the lower level of the parking deck was “always” reserved.

I found one of the last remaining spots on the upper deck.

The Wilton Road parking deck. The private lot at 11 Wilton Road is on the left.

I had a fine meal (salmon, brussels sprouts) at The ‘Port.

When I headed back to my car, the kid was gone. The chain to the lower level was gone too.

It’s one thing to close off a private lot — cheesy, but legal. A Church Lane landlord next to Spotted Horse has done that for a while.

But charging 10 bucks for a spot in an unused lot — well, let’s just say that’s not the way we do things in the ‘port.

Westport’s Newest SafeRide: A Life-Saving, Anti-Distracted Driving App

SafeRides — the local teen-run ride-sharing service that gave free, confidential rides home — shut down last month.

But SafeRide — an app that automatically locks a driver’s phone, eliminating temptations, distractions and possible disaster — is about to take off nationally.

It’s moving from a soft launch to a full-scale roll-out. And it’s happening right here, in a Westport home office.

SafeRide is the brainchild of Scott Rownin. He’s an eclectic guy. His degrees are in engineering and economics; he plays drums; he’s worked as an accountant, management consultant, equity trader and wealth adviser. But until he addressed the problem of distracted driving, he hadn’t found his true passion.

It happened several years after he and his wife Lauren moved to Westport. (Their first visit came during a Sidewalk Sale. “It was like the movie ‘Funny Farm,'” Rownin recalls, “where the entire town was set up just to sell a house.” They’re still in their “temporary” home, and love everything about the community.)

Scott and Lauren Rownin

A few years ago, Walmart ran a “Get on the Shelves” promotion. The megastore was looking for new products, from anyone.

Rownin had an idea: create a device to stop drivers from texting.

He hired a design firm, and began researching what’s legal and what’s not. Within 2 weeks, he had the beginnings of a device.

Since then, it’s evolved. There are a number of products already on the market. But they’re hardware-based.

SafeRide relies almost entirely on software. It uses Bluetooth as a beacon. Rownin says around 90% of cars now include Bluetooth. And those that don’t almost always have another device that does — say, GPS or a Bluetooth charger.

Recognizing any Bluetooth device, SafeRide locks the driver’s phone while the car is in motion. All phone calls and email sounds are turned off. Navigation and music apps are still available. And drivers can use a hands-free system (in-dash or headset) while the phone remains locked.

In an emergency, calls can still be made to a local responder.

Users can also set up customized auto-text replies, letting anyone who calls or texts know that the message will be responded to soon.

There is an on/off mode, so passengers can use their phones. Rownin is working on an “intelligent” aspect, where the app recognizes if a user is not in his or her own vehicle (and thus is, presumably, a passenger).

“If I were a teenager, I know I’d try to get around it,” he acknowledges. He’s worked to make SafeRide “teen-proof.” It reports misuse to a server — and parents can generate alerts and reports that show exactly when “passenger mode” was enabled.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

(Of course, as anyone who ventures out on Westport roads knows, the problem of distracted driving is hardly limited to teenagers.)

Rownin has relished every moment of this project. From product design and patent research to capitalization and marketing, he’s been driven by “making the world a safer place.”

His wife has been his biggest booster. “Every 6 months we have a heart-to-heart about this,” he says. “Lauren always pushes me forward.”

She’s also a “fantastic saleswoman,” and joined the team. “She’s killing it!” he says proudly.

SafeRide had a soft launch in March. Now publicity is ramping up.

Rownin hopes to keep the app free for parents. He foresees revenue coming from trucking companies and other organizations that employ large numbers of drivers, along with insurance companies that would license it, then provide it to their customers.

Further in the future, he says, SafeRide might come installed in every car that is sold.

It would be one more life-saving device no one even thinks about. Just like seat belts. Air bags. Or brakes.

(For more information on SafeRide, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #107

Waiting for a train (Photo/Marc Sandy Block)

Friday Flashback #50

Despite the traffic, construction and removal of trees, the Merritt Parkway is still more pleasant than 95. (Then again, so is colonoscopy prep.)

Back in 1939 — a couple of years after it opened — the Merritt really was a “parkway,” though.

So were the entrances. Here’s a shot of Exit 42 southbound, on Weston Road. The commuter parking lot was decades in the future.

I have no idea when the calming island was removed.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

Pic Of The Day #101

Livin’ the good life with a ’58 Jag. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Another Normal Weather Day In Westport. Another Car Crash.

This one occurred on Compo Road South, near Kaiser Road. An SUV rear-ended this car. The guy who got hit went to the hospital.


Be careful out there.

Pic Of The Day #98

The Saugatuck River and railroad bridge, as seen from the railroad station parking lot. Enlarge and look closely: A couple of swimmers are getting ready to jump off the bridge. (Photo/Dan Woog)