WESTPORT — There are few issues as contentious for those closest to town government than the Cribari Bridge, and the with the state looking to rehabilitate the it, the debate over what to do with Westport’s historic swing bridge has once again reopened.

“This bridge project was originally initiated because routine inspections identified the need for rehabilitation work, primarily to vehicular collision-damaged truss elements and corroded pile cross bracing,” according to the Department of Transportation Cribari Bridge project website. Cribari has substantial structural deficiencies, the DOT website noted.

In order to gather feedback from residents about the project, the DOT formed a Project Advisory Committee in June with a representative from several town groups with a stake in town infrastructure planning.

At the committee’s Nov. 28 meeting, the DOT presented a plan to rehabilitate the Cribari Bridge and another to build a new bridge altogether, both of which several committee members said were not acceptable.

“Westport has consistently said, ‘Maintain and preserve our bridge,’ and instead they repeatedly come back with options that destroy our bridge and plans to build larger bridges that will end up destroying our community,” John Suggs said.

Suggs represented the Westport Preservation Alliance on the Project Advisory Committee until the Nov. 28 meeting when he resigned from the committee over his frustration with the project.

Suggs said if the DOT rehabilitates the Saugatuck swing bridge, as it is sometimes called, it will expand the bridge’s width and raise its height. Large trucks are currently unable to drive over the Cribari Bridge because the bridge is too short, but if it is modified to allow for 18-wheeler trucks, Westport will become a side road for Interstate 95, Suggs warned.

DOT Communications Director Kevin Nursick said if the bridge is rehabilitated, it will be built to meet all current standards and to service all legal users, including bicycles, pedestrians, and all types of motor vehicles.

“You don’t rebuild a bridge into an obsolete fashion when you are rehabilitating it,” Nursick said. As is, the Cribari Bridge is in poor structural condition and two school buses driving on opposite sides of the bridge have difficulty passing each other, Nursick added.

The DOT can rehabilitate the bridge at the same time Westport prevents the Cribari Bridge from becoming a bypass for I-95, said Jennifer Johnson.

“Westport controls the road leading up to the bridge, so if we want to get serious about traffic, we should start managing our roads and not blame or wait for the state,” said Johnson who’s representing the Coalition for Westport on the committee.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said his primary concern is the bridge’s safety, but noted he also wants to preserve the historic character of the Cribari Bridge.

“We’re at least moving toward what could be done to authentically replicate the superstructure that people identify with the bridge,” Marpe said, adding he’s not yet prepared to give an opinion on how he believes the DOT should move forward with its plans to rehabilitate the well-known Westport bridge.


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