Tag Archives: Army Corps of Engineers

Saugatuck Railroad Bridge: The Project No One Talks About

Everyone is talking about the William F. Cribari Bridge. It’s over 130 years old. Should it be renovated, or replaced?

No one is talking about the Saugatuck River railroad bridge. It’s 116 years old. It too is nearing the end of its useful life.

Metro-North railroad bridge, looking south toward Long Island Sound.

The Metro-North span is one of 8 movable train bridges in the state. If it is replaced by a fixed structure — a project that could cost $75 million — what will happen to businesses upriver, like marinas, that depend on it being opened?

And if it is unable to open, what does that mean for the equipment — tugboats, barges, piledrivers — needed to dredge the river?

Railroad bridge over the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Speaking of which: When will the river be dredged?

The last major work was done in the 1950s. Before and after, barges traveling to and from the Gault oil tanks (around the site of what is now Saugatuck Sweets) sometimes scraped the bottom of the river. Those barges, and tugboats accompanying them, helped maintain the river.

The Gault oil tanks on Riverside Avenue, between the Cribari Bridge (left) and the railroad bridge, were not environmentally healthy for the Saugatuck River. But barge and tugboat traffic helped prevent buildup of silt on the bottom.

First Selectwoman Diane Farrell turned down funding for a dredging project, more than 20 years ago. Since then, the addition of businesses like kayak rentals and the Saugatuck Rowing Club has spurred an increased demand for recreational opportunities.

There are signs near the Levitt Pavilion that the river is becoming unnavigable. If a navigable channel is dry at low tide, it will no longer be maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Saugatuck River is becoming unnavigable at times far south of the Pavilion. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

What will that do to the waterway that once drove commerce all the way from Saugatuck to downtown — and which figures prominently in plans for a revitalization of downtown, with ideas like docks and a floating restaurant?

The other day, the Army Corps took some river samples, tied to possible work on the railroad bridge. They’re likely to find contamination in the area of that span, and I-95. Decades of train travel, and cars and trucks driving on the nearby highway, must have had an impact on the river below.

The railroad and I-95 bridges. (Photo/Brandon Malin)

Westporters should consider — and be talking about — the futures of both the Saugatuck River from Long Island Sound up to the Post Road bridge, and the Saugatuck River railroad bridge near its mouth.

The Cribari Bridge is important. But its just one part of an entire marine and transportation ecosystem that impacts our entire town.

The Saugatuck River, near Rive Bistro (Photo/Lauri Weiser)