Scenic road plan: Preservationists take new route to save Saugatuck bridge
Preservation-minded Westporters are stepping up their campaign to save the historic Saugatuck swing bridge, and Thursday night won Planning and Zoning Commission support for efforts to designate state Route 136 a scenic road as a way to block possible replacement of the span.
The P&Z gave unanimous support to advocates lobbying to designate Route 136 — known locally as Bridge Street where it crosses the span — as a State Scenic Highway. The vote came at the suggestion of residents trying to save the 132-year-old bridge, which the state Department of Transportation last fall said has developed structural and operational problems.
John Suggs, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 5; Selectman Helen Garten, along with preservationists Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther, asked for a letter of support from the commission to strengthen their formal application to the DOT.
The state is conducting a survey of the bridge — formally called the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge — and area traffic after identifying the deterioration issues with the span. That study is expected to be completed in April.
Suggs said preservation advocates started the initiative with the focus of protecting the bridge, built in 1884, from being replaced. “We’re working together as preservationists to preserve the bridge so we’ve looked at every possible opportunity to try to be able to do that and we stumbled across this, but now as we’ve had to fill out the application and advocate for it and educate people on it ...,” Suggs said, the group is also committed to secure a scenic highway designation for the road.
The proposed stretch of scenic road runs 1.2 miles, starting at the intersection of Route 1 and Compo Road South (Route 136), south to the intersection of Compo Road South and Bridge Street, then west until it hits Saugatuck Village and ends on Bridge Street. The final stretch would encompass the entirety of the Saugatuck River bridge.
The bridge and the Gault Barn Complex at 124 Compo Road South, both located within the proposed scenic highway designation, are properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Places, respectively. The Gault Barn Complex features a number of agricultural structures dating from 1890 to 1913.
Boyd explained in a detailed slideshow the numerous historical landmarks along the 1.2-mile stretch. “It passes by 22 acres of open space and is almost 100 percent residential with no less than 48 historic resources along the route,” he said.
P&Z Vice Chairman Jack Whittle said that he could see the historical significance of the route beyond just the swing bridge.
Garten said the possibility of the designation would be a “real honor for Westport,” and that it “celebrates a piece of Westport that’s very important and allows us to tell the stories of these houses, of these roads and of the bridge to the people of Westport.”