Residents of Sagaponack and Bridgehampton blasted plans by the Southampton Town Highway Department to make repairs to a bridge over Sagg Pond at a public meeting on Wednesday night, December 18, saying the plans would ruin a beloved part of the neighborhood and make the roadway less safe.
The repairs would bolster the aging bridge and widen the roadway across it, making it easier for cars to pass each other comfortably on the span. But the widening would mean the removal of a narrow sidewalk, set off from the roadway by a curb on one side of the bridge—one used by generations of local residents for fishing and crabbing, or simply on which to pause during a stroll to gaze across the waters of the pond.
“This is a loved place,” Sagaponack resident Marilee Foster told Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor and engineers who designed the bridge repairs at a meeting at the Bridgehampton Community Center to discuss the plans. “The people of Sagaponack have a very strong desire to keep that walkway.”
Many of the residents at the meeting recalled a five-year campaign in the 1980s against Suffolk County plans to demolish the bridge entirely and replace it with a modern steel span. Those plans were halted, but as a result the county turned the maintenance of the bridge over to Southampton Town. Residents on Wednesday night said the sentiments expressed back then were the same as today: The bridge and its rural character are an important part of their neighborhood.
The undersides of the bridge, built in 1923, are crumbling from age and the abuse of construction vehicle traffic far heavier than the bridge’s 7-ton posted limit, Mr. Gregor said. The Highway Department has proposed rebuilding a concrete footing supporting the bridge, repairing the decking, replacing the guard rails and widening the traffic lanes from about 8 feet to 10 feet wide.
The work is expected to cost between about $900,000 and $1 million. The town has secured a federal bridge grant that would cover $500,000 of the total cost, with the town picking up the rest.
Mr. Gregor said that the federal grant requires that the work make the roadway compliant with State Department of Transportation codes, which demand the 10-foot-wide traffic lanes.
Residents asked that Mr. Gregor and the engineers from McClean Associates do a new analysis of what it would cost to make just the necessary repairs to the bridge structure but not the road widening, even if it meant giving up the federal grant money. If the town’s cost would only be incrementally higher, it would be worth the additional cost to preserve an important stitch in the rural fabric of the area, they said.
“It is not structurally deficient but outdated and needs minor repairs,” Sagaponack Village Mayor Donald Louchheim said. “The new guard rails and 10-foot lanes you’re only doing to get the federal grant money.”
Drew Bennett, an engineer from East Hampton who contracts with the Village of Sagaponack, said with only a quick glance at the cost breakdowns Mr. Gregor had provided he would estimate that making only the necessary repairs to the bridge footing, guardrails and pavement, would run somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000.
Mr. Gregor said his main mission in proposing the road widening was to make the bridge more safe. But the residents, about 25 of whom attended the meeting, said the plans would have the opposite effect.
“You’ve been talking a lot about safety, but not having [the walkway] any more and wider lanes, people will speed up,” Lisa Thayer, a Sagaponack Village trustee, said. “It may allow for car traffic to be safer, but it doesn’t allow for pedestrians to be safer.”
Several longtime residents said that there had not been an accident in the vicinity of the bridge in some 50 years or more. Removing the buffer for pedestrians and speeding up traffic would make it more, not less, likely there would be one, they said.
“If the bridge had been the site of many serious accidents, and children were falling off it and drowning, it would be a problem,” Mr. Louchheim said. “But that isn’t the case.”
“If you take that sidewalk out,” another resident, Linda Franke, added, “you will 100-percent have a fatality there.”