A Gentle Rehab for Historic Bridge

A bucolic span, bought for $1, speaks to Sagaponack Village’s sense of self
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., right, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, center, and Sagaponack Mayor Don Louchheim after announcing state funding to help rehabilitate the 1932 bridge. Taylor K. Vecsey

New York State is pitching in to help the Village of Sagaponack refurbish the historic Sagg Bridge, work that will not only provide much-needed rehabilitation, but also maintain the area’s fiercely protected rural character.

The village is set to receive a total of $500,000 in state grant money, more than  half of the total cost, estimated at about $900,000. However, a second phase of work will bring the cost up to $1.2 million. Sagaponack Village will foot the rest of the bill through money already set aside in its capital highway reserve fund.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle secured the money on behalf of the village. As the state and village officials walked over the bridge on Monday, Mr. Thiele declared it one of the best vistas on the entire East End. It is a favorite fishing and crabbing spot for many.

Improvements to the small country bridge that crosses Sagg Pond and connects Bridgehampton to Sagaponack will include updating the drainage structure along the approaching road, repairs to the causeway and seawall. The bridge will have a new deck, curbing, and sidewalks, and its railing will be fixed.

It was last fall that Sagaponack officials successfully gained ownership of the bridge after a long fight, purchasing it for just $1. The village board was desperate to preserve the bridge and to stop the Southampton Town from using federal money to not only repair it, but widen it. Armed with reports that called it “functionally obsolete,” the Town Highway Department had plans for a $1 million project that would shore up the seawall at the bridge and repave the travel lanes, take erosion and sediment control measures, and replace the railing.

Though there were four crossings before it, this Sagg Bridge was built in 1923 and measures about 91 feet long and 24.5 feet wide.

Senator LaValle said the Sagg Bridge, second only to the Montauk Lighthouse, is one of the best-known landmarks in his district. He said it was an easy decision for him and the assemblyman to follow local leadership and secure funding for the bridge.

The community has long railed against substantial changes to the bridge. Mr. Thiele recalled how, in the 1980s, when he was serving as a town attorney under Supervisor Marty Lang, the county had plans of its own. “They wanted to reconstruct it with a structure that would have made the Throgs Neck Bridge proud,” he said. The county ended up turning control of the bridge over to the town, which undertook some repairs. Decades later, the town seemed to take on the county’s old role, Mr. Thiele said, in trying to modernize it in a way that would make it anything but a bucolic bridge. 

“We feel it’s very much a part of our job as a new village to protect things like this bridge, which are very important to our heritage,” Mayor Don Louchheim said while he stood at the foot of the bridge with the state officials, thanking them for securing the funding. “We’re not only going to rehabilitate it, we’re going to maintain it. It will never look like this again,” he said.

Though plans are still being finalized, Mr. Louchheim said the bridge certainly will not be widened despite the substandard width lanes. “We’ve managed for 80 years,” he said. The existing 4.5-foot walkway on the southern side of the bridge, from which people fish and crab, will remain, though it will be given a proper curb. The existing railing will be rehabbed, and not replaced, according to Rhodi Winchell, the clerk-treasurer.

Work is expected to begin in October and to be complete by this time next year.

“We just want you to know that even though there are state dollars, there’s no need for an E-ZPass lane,” Mr. Thiele said to the mayor during an announcement at the foot of the bridge Monday morning. “And, those big, blue ‘I Love New York’ signs,” he said, referring to the State Department of Transportation signs recently installed in Montauk, much to the chagrin of local officials and the community, “they’re not coming here.”

Over the laughter, and without missing a beat, Mayor Louchheim joked that part of the deal when the village bought the bridge from the Town of Southampton last year was to make it a one-way bridge: “westbound.”