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Sunday, December 8 News

No decision yet on Cribari Bridge repairs, funds

WESTPORT — Millions of state dollars have again been allocated to make significant repairs to Cribari Bridge, but whether the town will accept those funds and what a construction plan could look like are still up in the air.

Over the years, the state Department of Transportation has explored rehabilitation options for the 135-year-old swing bridge that carries Route 136 over the Saugatuck River. A July draft of 2021-2024 projects for the the Southwest Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Improvement Plan included $20 million in fiscal year 2023 and $20 million in 2024 for the rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge.

But with no formal plan announced, Westport’s highest official has held off on issuing any endorsements.

“The town of Westport neither accepts nor rejects the CT DOT’s budgeted funding of $40 million over the two years until it is clear on the specific proposal for the Cribari Bridge and the community agrees on which solution is the best for the town of Westport,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement on Monday.

The debate over bridge repairs is nothing new.

Two years ago, the town saw itself in a similar situation when Marpe voted against the DOT setting aside $40 million to rebuild the bridge. At that time, Marpe cited uncertainty about the state’s plan for the bridge and its affect on the town as his reasoning.

CRIBARI BRIDGE HISTORY

Location: The bridge spans the Saugatuck River on Route 136 in Westport

Built: 1884

Rehabilitated: 1951, 1979, 1993 and minor repairs in 2018

Built by: Union Bridge Company of Buffalo, New York

Official name: Bridge No. 01349

Named after: William F. Cribari, former Westport police officer and war hero

Source: Connecticut Dept. of Transportation

Ultimately, the planning organization — consisting of leaders from surrounding towns — chose to follow Marpe’s lead in voting to deny the funding.

The funding was delayed until the DOT completed a more thorough assessment with consideration of community input and the bridge’s impact on the character of the Saugatuck neighborhood, Marpe said.

In response, the DOT established a Project Advisory Committee in 2018 to receive community feedback on future plans for Cribari Bridge. Still, several representatives from groups with a stake in town infrastructure planning opposed any major changes to the structure.

“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 at the committee’s Nov. 28 meeting.

Suggs, who represented the Westport Preservation Alliance on the Project Advisory Committee, later resigned from the committee over his frustration with the project.

Earlier this year, a draft of alternative rehabilitation plans was presented to committee members, reopening the debate about the historic bridge’s future. The handful of proposals range from conducting minor repairs to a complete replacement with wider travel lanes, sidewalks and a structural service life of 100 years. A complete overhaul could potentially allow 18-wheeler trucks to utilize the route.

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The DOT has said addressing the bridge’s structural deficiencies may require major rehabilitation. Last year, it placed a 20-ton limit on the span that prevented certain emergency vehicles and some public works vehicles from crossing, due to deterioration of the pier piles and pile bracing structure.

But with no formal plan announced, Marpe said last week it’s important residents know no decision has been made. The draft Transportation Improvement Plan, which includes the Cribari Bridge project, is not a guarantee or endorsement any project will occur, he added.

“The Town of Westport has not endorsed any plans for the Cribari Bridge and awaits a conclusion to the CT DOT Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation,” he said in the release.

The DOT will issue its final study report in April 2020 after completing an air quality and environmental analysis, and a period of public comment is expected to follow in the spring. Members of the planning organization are expected to vote on the allocated funds as early as the summer of 2020.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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