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Town's Bridge Lane Project Under Fire

Highway superintendent says improvements being made in the name of safety, but residents say widening lanes will have opposite effect.

A photograph of a NYSDOT approved four-rail bridge railing system that would replace the current railing on the bridge at Bridge Lane.
A photograph of a NYSDOT approved four-rail bridge railing system that would replace the current railing on the bridge at Bridge Lane.
Sagaponack and Bridgehampton residents want the town to take a look at a fourth, unexplored alternative to repairing the Bridge Lane bridge after a plan to wide the travel lanes and replace the railing drew harsh criticism from those in attendance at a meeting at the Bridgehampton Community Center on Wednesday night.

The approximately $1 million project, partially being funded by a $500,000 federal grant administered by the State Department of Transportation, also includes replacement of a seawall, adding drainage, repaving, and taking erosion and sediment control measures on a bridge that Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said has exceeded its useful age. This project would be a 20 to 30-year fix, he said.

Gregor said all of the improvements are being done in the name of the safety, pointing to an engineering report that calls the 1923 bridge "functionally obsolete." If the town does not upgrade the bridge to federal and state standards, the funding would be lost, he said.

Widening the vehicle lanes from about 8.5 feet to 10 feet would be done without widening the bridge itself, which means the small shoulder, or sidewalk often used by people to fish off of, will disappear. Pedestrians and cyclists will still have access to the road, as vehicles will have to yield to them and share the road, he said.

The current railing will be replaced with four-rail bridge guard rails that meets DOT crash standards.

The bridge over Sagg Pond, connecting Sagaponack and Bridgehampton, was built when loads were lighter and vehicles were smaller. It has been compromised with trucks that are two to three times the seven-ton weight limit routinely using it, Gregor said.

Standard size lanes are between 10 and 15 feet, he said, adding that there have been complaints that landscaping trucks going over the bridge at the same clip their mirrors.

"I love old thing. I love history. I also love the safety of the public," Gregor said. "Please believe me: I don't like to spend $1 million if I don't have to."

Sagaponack Village Trustee Lisa Duryea Thayer said the project doesn't allow for the safety of pedestrian traffic using the bridge. "In reality, I don't think you'll take a several hundred-year tradition and eradicate it," she said of fishing.

Cathy Gandell, of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, said the CAC discussed the project at its meeting on Monday, and they felt that a narrow bridge causes drivers to slow down when crossing it, whereas a wider bridge would have the opposite effect.

"To make it wider in the name of safety is crazy," Jeff Vogel, a Bridgehampton resident.

"To take away that sidewalk, you're asking for a disaster," Thomas White, a Sagaponack resident, said.

Marilee Foster, a Sagaponack farmer and member of the village zoning board of appeals, told Gregor she felt "kicked in the face over this project." She said she felt the project was tailored toward drivers, when it is important to consider that the bridge is important to the community as a whole. The bridge "is part of our rapidly vanishing hometown," she said.

Sagaponack Village Mayor Donald Loucheim agreed that the views from the bridge are among the most scenic vistas in town. "We don't take homes that are contributing to the character of the historic district and replace them because they don't meet code," he said.

Gregor said it is not a historic structure. "If it was a historic landmark, we'd keep it," he said. However, he said if repairs were not undertaken, the state could flag the bridge and close it for safety reasons. "I think we are quite lucky to get $500,000."

"I wish we had known about this sooner," one resident in the audience. Gregor said the project has been four-years in the making, and that this is actually the second phase. 

Loucheim said village officials had only seen visuals for the first time this week. 

Drew Bennett, a consulting engineer for the village who only received the project design Wednesday morning, asked that town take a look at a fourth alternative to make repairs, such as shoring up the seawall and patching the deck, but leaving out widening the lanes and fixing the rail. The town may be able to forgo the federal and state standards if it doesn't accept the federal funding for a bigger project.

Gregor said he would look into the other alternative and go back to the state with some of the questions raised. Asked if the project was "a done deal," Gregor said he was leaning toward moving forward as is. "We've come a long way. I don't think it's that radical what we're doing."

Loucheim said residents had been down this road before. There was a five-year fight in the 1980s, before the Village of Sagaponack was incorporated, over the bridge. "This whole battle was fought out for exactly the same reason you're giving today," he told Gregor. In the end, the county took on repairs that didn't change the character of the bridge, and the town took on the responsibility for maintenance in the future, he said.

Loucheim said the current plan, which Gregor expects to start construction on in April, goes against the agreement from 25 years ago. He said the town is, in essence, "reneging on that commitment."

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