Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said this week that after rereading New York State highway safety codes he has been able to slightly alter plans for renovating the Bridge Lane bridge in Sagaponack to allow for a three-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle travel lane on the bridge’s new pavement.
But the highway superintendent said that new railings along the edge of the bridge, the look of which has been a bone of contention with area residents, must be installed in accordance with the plans he presented at a public meeting in December that drew outcry from residents and historic preservationists for stripping the century-old bridge of its rural, country-road character.
A new rendering of what the bridge, once completed, would look like from the air briefly gave members of the Sagaponack Village Board hope this week that Mr. Gregor had found an alternative to the original railing designs, as they had asked him to. But once board members realized that the rendering merely represented an alternative view of the original, their relief quickly returned to consternation over the highway superintendent’s refusal to explore less comprehensive renovation efforts that may not require the work to conform with robust state highway requirements.
“This is not an alternative, this is exactly what is in the specs, this is just a new rendering,” Mayor Donald Louchheim said, holding the doctored aerial photos of the bridge at the Sagaponack Village Board’s meeting on Monday. “So, despite our pleas, he didn’t give an inch.”
The current railings consist of two sets of steel pipes running between three-foot-high concrete posts across either side of the span. The new plans drawn up by consultants for the town call for four square steel railings supported by steel stanchions mounted on the outside of the bridge, a design that residents have described as looking more like a “barricade.”
“The concrete pillars … that’s what sets the tone for the character of the bridge,” Tom White, a Sagaponack native and member of the village’s Architecture and Historic Review Board, said. “You lose a lot of the charm when you go to steel uprights.”
Mr. Gregor said his office examined some other possibilities for railing designs that would meet state safety codes and that there were none that would fit the aesthetic that residents and members of the Village Board were looking for.
Opponents of the plan have pleaded with Mr. Gregor to search for renovation possibilities that would not force the town to meet modern state highway codes. Mr. Gregor has said that doing so is a requirement to qualify for an approximately $500,000 federal grant that would pay for half of the total renovation.
Village Board members have asked the town to examine the possibility of eschewing the grant money and absorbing some extra costs by proceeding with the renovation without it, to escape the code mandate. Mr. Gregor said that is not an option and that he would not want to dodge the codes regardless of the funding source.
“I would be hard pressed to not replace the railings even if we didn’t have the grant,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s an issue of safety. We have the grant money, it was earmarked by [U.S. Representative] Tim Bishop specifically for this project and we’re not going to give it up.”
Mr. Gregor said that the new railing design would allow the three-foot walkway along the edge of the roadway to remain, the other main point of contention from residents bemoaning the renovation plans. The bridge has long been a favorite spot for people to fish for crabs over the waters of Sagg Pond, and on summer afternoons groups of children and families gather on the bridge to dangle chicken legs as bait. The initial plans Mr. Gregor had discussed called for the traffic lanes to be widened to 10 feet, which would have eliminated the narrow pedestrian area. But in looking anew at the state requirements, Mr. Gregor said he found that the lanes would only have to be nine feet, only a few inches wider than they are now. That would allow room for a demarcated pedestrian and bicycle lane. A raised concrete curb that now divides the walkway from the road would still be removed.
The Village Board members went so far as to discuss whether the village could ask the town to turn over the bridge, and responsibility for its maintenance costs, to them,
Engineer Drew Bennett told board members that doing so would mean facing a repair bill for the bridge that would likely run upwards of $700,000, nearly three-quarters of the village’s annual operating budget. He said that the railings and the concrete posts that support them are not deteriorated to the point that they would have to be replaced if state codes could be avoided, but that they would need some patching of the concrete.
Board members said it may be hopeless to try to head off the project even if the village offered to pick up the tab.
“If we went to [the town] and said the village would pay the difference to have it fixed the way it is, I still don’t think Alex Gregor would do it,” Mr. Louchheim said. “How do you deal with someone who doesn’t want to deal, when all they want to do is flummox you?”