Generations of youth growing up on the East End have spent summer days with their arms hung over the steel piping guardrails of the Bridge Lane bridge above the waters of Sagg Pond, a length of string grasped in one hand feeling for the tug of a crab at the other.
That age-old pastime for Bridgehamptonites and Sagaponackers may now be coming to an end as needed repairs to the bridge, and the design mandates of federal grants that will fund more than half the $890,000 repair cost, will require that the concrete columns and sidewalks that separate them from the roadway be removed to make way for wider traffic lanes.
On Wednesday night, Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor will host an informational meeting for area residents to discuss the changes at the bridge and get a peek at what the new design will look like. The meeting will be held at the Bridgehampton Community Center on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike at 6:30 p.m.
The improvements planned for next spring will widen the roadway from only about 15 feet wide to 20 feet wide, as is required by today’s state Department of Transportation guidelines. But making way for the extra roadway means the sidewalks on either side of the bridge that attract crabbers and anglers in spring and summer, will have to be removed.
The iron pipes hung between concrete columns that serve as a guardrail now will also be removed, replaced with steel guardrails that Mr. Gregor says will be capable of actually keeping a car from going off the bridge were it to lose control.
“What’s there now, wouldn’t stop anything from going over the bridge,” Mr. Gregor said recently. “The current bridge is functionally obsolete. It doesn’t meet any of today’s standards.”
Mr. Gregor acknowledged that the tiny shoulder and lack of sidewalk on the span will mean there will no longer be a place for the folks who used to gather on the bridge to pluck crabs and alewives from the pond. He noted that it has always been technically illegal to fish from the bridge, however common it may have been.
Pedestrians and cyclists will still be able to use the bridge, he said, as they would any shared roadway, though there will not be marked bike or pedestrian lanes. There will only be a very narrow shoulder between the traffic lanes and the guardrails he said.
The concrete footing at the eastern end of the bridge will also be replaced by a new steel footing. As part of the work around the footing, the town will grade and stabilize a boat ramp used by kayakers to access the pond with concrete pavers.
It is the second time that the condition of the bridge, which was built in 1923, has been at issue. In the 1980s, Suffolk County highway crews were prepared to remove the concrete bridge entirely, replacing it with a raised steel span. Outcry from area residents convinced the county to abandon its plans and make repairs to the bridge, but on the condition that the town take over maintenance of the structure.
In 2005, the town conducted a first phase of repairs, replacing the pilings that support the roadway over the pond. The second phase, repairs to the roadway and the new guardrails, is projected to cost $890,000. A federal grant for bridge repairs will cover $500,000 of that but requires that the new roadway meet current traffic safety standards. The town has bonded for the rest of the money.
Mr. Gregor said he expects the project to go out to bid in February and hopefully commence work by early spring so that it will be completed before the summer traffic season gets into full swing.