DOT’s 1980’s Offer of Bridge To Town

Timeline 

1985 – Marty Hauhuth was First Selectman from 1985 – 1989.  Per a letter written by her to the Westport P&Z on 9/28/15 which was in support of saving the bridge once again, she claimed that her 1985 election campaign platform included among its priorities the fight to save the threatened Saugatuck Bridge. Hauhuth claimed that “it was clear that people wanted to keep the bridge as it was.”

Jul 30, 1985 – The Norwalk Hour reported in its Suburban section (p 9) that the town’s traffic authority was going to meet with the Board of Selectmen that evening to request that the DOT restore and repair the Bridge Street Bridge, and return to the town’s control a portion of the state highway Route 136 involving 5 local roads: Compo N., Compo S., Bridge, Riverside and Charles.

Aug 9, 1985 – The Norwalk Hour publishes story with a headline, “Seiden asks DOT not to enlarge size of bridge.”  First Selectman Bill Seiden asked them to restore and repair the bridge rather than enlarge it which would allow tractor trailers to traverse the state route.  He said that “the public in general have justifiable fears that a bridge built for such a loading [10 tons & up] will encourage the use of 18-wheelers through our residential streets.”  Seiden wrote the DOT saying that Westporter’s highest concern and priority is “that the residential character of Rt. 136 along Compo Road leading to the bridge and including the bridge be maintained and that its historical character be preserved.”  Seiden also asked that the bridge be no wider than two lanes.  The span carries 10,500 vehicles daily.

Aug 21, 1985 – The Norwalk Hour reports that Mary Hauhuth has received a letter from DOT saying that they will approve the restoration and repair of the Bridge Street bridge.  They also say that one of the proposals that they will be making in an upcoming public hearing will be the return to the control of the town a portion of the state highway 136 involving five local roads and the responsibility of the bridge.  The DOT commissioner said that the current bridge could be retained but only as a town road because it would not meet the DOT standards for a state highway.  The five roads would be Compo S. and N., Bridge, Riverside and Charles.   Hauhuth says that this is not final and that much discussion still needs to be had with the DOT.  Several days prior to this report she accused First Selectman Bill Seiden of changing his position on the bridge.  She claimed that he showed no support for retaining the bridge early on and that he didn’t oppose the enlargement scheme pitched by the state.  She said that he claimed that Westport couldn’t do anything about the potential enlargement of the bridge.

Aug 29, 1985 – The Norwalk Hour reports that the BOS votes 2-1 to request that the DOT restore and repair the bridge and retain its current dimensions despite recommendations of police and fire officials to expand it due to its “inadequate width” which could prevent safety vehicles from passing over it in an emergency during heavy traffic.  First Selectman Seiden voted against the resolution for these safety reasons.  Forty neighbors attended the meeting some of whom were wearing t-shirts that said, “Preserve the Bridge, Save a Neighborhood.” 

Nov 22, 1985 –  The Norwalk Hour publishes an article on the bridge.  It reports that residents and RTM members urged keeping the current dimensions of the historic structure in order to keep heavy tractor trailers off of it and thus running through the residential neighborhood.  The DOT’s deputy commissioner stated in a letter dated July 20 that the option favored by those who attended the public hearing  – retaining the 19 ½ feet horizontal clearance and the 13’ 4” vertical clearance, “would be acceptable” and would allow a 15-ton load capacity.  He said these “would not be satisfactory to the DOT’s standards for a state highway however these standards would be acceptable as a town road.”  Police Chief Ron Malone said that bridge was a safety hazard because it was too narrow when police and fire vehicles needed to pass through during high traffic times.  Police and Fire Depts. wanted it widened to 30 or 32 feet so that cars could pull over to the sides to let emergency vehicles through.

The article also reported that the State would have to acquire commercial property on the northwest side of the bridge along Riverside in order to construct the temporary span.

1986 – Per National Register info, the bridge is recorded in a 1986 Federal/State survey called “Connecticut: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites” – these records are deposited with the CT Historical Commission (now known as SHPO).

Feb 6, 1987The Norwalk Hour publishes a story describing details regarding the construction of the temporary bridge.  The refurbishment process is due to take two years and the temporary bridge will be constructed before the original bridge is closed for renovation. Mentioned is the fact that the Dockside Service Center building will be demolished before the new bridge is erected.  Under discussion are the legal liabilities of the project – who is responsible for what – after the project is finished.  A proposal being considered is to have the roads that approach the bridge transferred to the town but that the state remain responsible for the bridge.  The state wanted to be held harmless from the bridge too.  First Selectman Hauhuth disagreed with this and also wanted the roads to be in tip-top shape before the state turned them over.  The only thing Hauhuth was willing to agree to was allowing the state to be “held harmless from lawsuits arising out of accidents due to the geometrics of the bridge because Westport had requested that the bridge be refurbished to its current dimensions which are currently below state standards for width and height.”

Feb 12, 1987 – Westport’s swing bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Register characterizes the bridge as “Significant on a national basis as a rare surviving example from the first generation of movable iron bridges” and that the firm that built it (Union Bridge) was “a leading, if short-lived, pioneer in swing-bridge production.”  Additionally, it stated that the bridge was “significant in the history of Westport because it illustrates the important role of maritime commerce (particularly the shipment of onions) in the town’s economy during the 19th century, a role of sufficient importance that the town took on the additional trouble and expense of erecting a bridge that would not limit water-borne traffic.”  It also says that the bridge, “illustrates vividly a distinctive and ephemeral chapter in American bridge-building.”  Lastly, it “is the ONLY example of a hand-operated swing bridge in CT.”

Dec 29, 1987 – The Norwalk Hour does a re-cap of the year and reports the following in its Suburban Section, pg 21: “The state also agreed to rehabilitate the historic Bridge Street Bridge to its present dimensions at no cost to the town.  The issue over whether the town or state should own and maintain the bridge was one which split many town residents and instigated several law suits.”  The article also says, “The state’s decision to repair and maintain the bridge was considered by many to be a major political victory for Mrs. Hauhuth who said, ‘This decision will provide Westport with a safe bridge, a bridge that will continue to symbolize the history, spirit and small scale of Saugatuck.  Westport should feel very good about the state’s decision.  We have saved this lovely piece of Westport history.’”