Woog’s World: A bridge too far? Can Westport swing infrastructure repairs like Saugatuck span?
So we’re surviving Westport’s version of first-day-of-school Bridgegate.
No, a big bullying governor did not suddenly shut down traffic on one of our most traveled roads. Instead, construction work on a tiny bridge over the well-traveled Merritt Parkway muddled past its projected completion date — surprise! Only a concerted effort by town officials goosed the state Department of Transportation into making damn sure one lane of North Avenue traffic was open in both directions so that school buses and parents who drive their kids to school, because they like clogging the roads even if there’s a perfectly good school bus stopping every five feet on their road, could crawl up and down behind the buses, on their way to and from the high school, two middle schools and one elementary school that make this the smartest street in town.
Not to mention one of the busiest.
But I am not here to talk about transportation bureaucrats, construction workers, Westport politicians, school buses, parents who drive their kids to school, kids who drive themselves to school, or commuters who also share the smartest street in town.
I am here to talk about infrastructure. Perhaps I should say “crumbling infrastructure,” because in 2015 America, it is a law that the word “infrastructure” must always be prefaced with “crumbling.”
Yet as lovely as Westport is — and it is very, very lovely, with all kinds of beautiful homes and gorgeous foliage and pretty whatnot, which you can enjoy while sitting in your car on the Merritt Parkway, going zero miles an hour because one worker is toiling away at the North Avenue bridge project — we too are not immune to the curse of crumbling infrastructure.
The commuters who race down the smartest street in town — or any other — in their haste to get to the train station know plenty about crumbling infrastructure. One of the prime examples is right there at the Saugatuck station.
Anyone taking the eastern tunnel under the tracks is both very courageous (because the tunnel always reminds me of “A Clockwork Orange,” and I fully expect Alex and his Droogs to pour out of the shadows and stomp me senseless while singing “Singin’ in the Rain”), and also very wet (because the walls constantly drip with what I hope is rain, but fear is some less pure form of moisture). In fact, the entire cure for California’s current drought may be found in our railroad tunnel.
Our crumbling infrastructure continues on the train. Sure, Metro-North has added some spiffy new cars, even though the signs apparently are not in English because no one can understand what “QUIET CAR” means. But those cars still run at the whim of the rest of the system, which was quite wonderful when it was built, back in the 19th Century, and was not yet atrocious in the 1950s, when Westport’s men in gray flannel suits rode back and forth to their jobs writing ads for Marlboros and Edsels.
Commuters in those days drove over the Bridge Street bridge, which even then was pushing the century mark. We still use the same bridge, which may be pushing our luck. A major renovation was done in the 1980s; it’s now due for another. Here’s where “crumbling infrastructure” meets “old New England charm.”
Even people who live in very large homes with no trees to speak of seem to like the Bridge Street bridge. They don’t like waiting on it, shaking while a too-large truck squeezes by in the other lane. But they also realize that even if it is replaced with a super-duper, super-ugly structure that is high enough to let boat traffic by, once in a blue moon, it wouldn’t matter because once they get off the bridge and onto Riverside Avenue, there is no way to speed up that traffic anyway.
So the consensus seems to be: fix the crumbling infrastructure that is the Bridge Street bridge. (Actually, it’s the William F. Cribari Bridge. The name honors the longtime and very theatrical traffic cop who did what he could to untangle the vehicular mess right there.) But don’t mess with the bridge itself.
Meanwhile, a downtown project — pushed by town officials, paid for with state funds and part of a collaboration with the Downtown Merchants Association — has brought new sidewalks, lampposts and trees to Main Street. It’s the first stage in a long-range plan to jazz up that tired (though not crumbling) part of town.
Ahead: making better use of the nearby Saugatuck River. But no one seems to be talking about how silted over it is. It needs a thorough dredging. That’s an infrastructure fix that is out of sight, out of mind.
Hey, at least the Post Road Bridge is in fantastic shape.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com