New DOT proposal for Cribari Bridge would transfer ownership to town
WESTPORT — The state’s transportation department offered a new plan for the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge, proposing the state carry out repairs based on the town’s desires and then transfer ownership to Westport, First Selectman Jim Marpe announced Tuesday.
The proposal’s announcement comes two days ahead of a South West Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting when funding for a repair or replacement of the bridge is up for a vote. Marpe had told Connecticut Department of Education officials he would vote against the $40 million in funding with the state’s definitive plans for the bridge undetermined and a some residents pushing for preservation of the historic Saugatuck bridge.
A list of DOT repairs in the proposal this week include widening the bridge, a move that has sparked concern from residents concerned about historic preservation as well as increased highway traffic funneling into town.
“It’s certainly an alternative to preserving the bridge,” Marpe said in an interview. “As I noted in the press release it offers an interesting alternative, but at the same time there are a number of ramifications associated with it that need to be fully evaluated.”
Repairs in the proposal include splitting and offsetting the bridge’s truss system, installing crash rails, an electric/mechanical system for opening and closing the bridge and a temporary bridge for use while repairs were being made.
“This new proposal provides an interesting alternative that carries with it a myriad of ramifications that must be fully evaluated,” Marpe said in a press release. “I assured (CT DOT) Commissioner (James) Redeker that the proposal would be fully vetted by all stakeholders and citizens. We agreed that the current Environmental Assessment (EA) Study for the Cribari Bridge would continue while this proposal is reviewed and discussed.”
Marpe met with Redeker Tuesday morning at the request of the commissioner, town Finance Director Gary Conrad and town Public Works Director Stephen Edwards, according to the release.
In order to make the bridge town property, Bridge Street as well as Compo Road South from its intersection with Post Road to its intersection with Bridge Street would be re-designated as town roads. Currently, they are part of Connecticut Route 136, making them state roads. Route 136 would be redirected along Post Road and Riverside Avenue.
The bridge, on the national register of historic places, was built in 1884 and underwent a state rehabilitation project in the early 1990s. That project also caused a stir and a similar option that would make the bridge town property was rejected at the time, according to Marpe’s release.
He said in the interview that he wants to understand why the proposal was rejected previously and to assess implications as a community.
John Suggs, of the Westport Preservation Alliance, said he believes the proposal would neither preserve the bridge nor keep trucks from inundating nearby roads. Suggs, who has advocated against a major rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge, entered this fall’s first selectman race last week as an independent. Preservation of the bridge is among his concerns as a candidate.
“My position is no thanks,” he said. “This is not something that the town of Wesptort would benefit by, and we want the DOT to do its job to maintain the bridge, do the minor repairs and to leave our bridge the way it is.”
He said the decision should be made as a town and include an evaluation of potential impacts — such as the financial responsibility of snow plowing and maintenance that would come with bridge ownership — and believes the proposal should go before the Representative Town Meeting. But based on the information in the proposal, Suggs believes rehabilitation would go beyond the minor repairs he would hope to see and that widening the bridge would likely involve raising its height as well.