Westport RTM approves $2.47M bridge replacement

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting voted 25-6, with two abstentions, to approve a $2.47 million to replace the Kings Highway North Bridge.

The bridge has been a concern for some years and was labeled “highly deteriorated” by the state Department of Transportation in 2016. Since then, a 4-ton weight limit has been imposed due to the deterioration.

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“In that time period it hasn’t gotten any better and we have been monitoring it,” Public Works Director Pete Ratkiewich said at Tuesday’s meeting. “At the same time in 2016, we engaged the services of BL Engineering to design a replacement of the bridge.”

The project is eligible for funding under the state local bridge program, which allows a 50% reimbursement. Ratkiewich said work on the bridge could start this year.

“We do have a number of other bridges coming down the line in future years,” he noted. “We can only handle one or two bridges a year at our current capacity.”

While all RTM members fully supported fixing the bridge, members were divided on whether or not to delay the vote for more information.

RTM member Seth Braunstein said he was alarmed to find out 20% of the costs were for decorations, noting stonework for the bridge cost $500,000 alone.

“If we could come up with a redesign that might be somewhat more streamlined and more enhancing of the views and surrounding, I think that’s something we should consider,” he said. “We could save the money, we could potentially accelerate the time frame, and we could maybe make it something that’s more appropriate for the setting.”

However, Ratkiewich said changing the plans could affect approvals through the state DOT.

“If the goal is to save money, there are a number of ways that can happen without delaying,” he said, adding the $2.47 million was an estimate that he expects to be lower.

Ratkiewich’s department had been previously asked to maintain the appearance of the bridge by the Westport Preservation Alliance. As the bridge is located in the downtown area, a goal is to maintain its park-like appearance.

“The appearance of bridges in Westport in general, in my experience, has always been to use stone-cladding, real stone-cladding,” Ratkiewich said, noting the one exception was the Saugatuck Island Bridge.

RTM member Kris Hamlin said she was in favor of fixing bridges, but agreed with Braunstein’s concerns.

“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “I think we’re rushing to judgment.”

Hamlin said a design should have gone out for bidding first, adding if the RTM approved such a high cost it could become a magnet for higher costs when they do bid.

“This needs to be competitively bid,” Hamlin said.

Other RTM members voiced support for the bridge and thought it was important not to further delay the project.

Richard Jaffe said he supported the project, but hopes more information is released for future bridge projects.

“As I understand, this is the first bridge of a number that needs work,” he said. “If we slow this bridge down, we’re going to slow down the others.”

Ratkiewich noted the high appropriation was to ensure the town had the appropriate funds for the project, including a contingency. There is not a repair option for the bridge due to deficiencies — it has to be replaced.

“We have a full-fledged set of plans and a full-fledged design,” he said. “We are on a fast track because I’d like to get this started when the permits allows us to get started, which is in June. I think I can get this done by the end of the year.”