MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Agency of Transportation officials plan to replace the Sand Hill Bridge on Route 125 in East Middlebury with a similar span during a four-to six-week time period during the summer of 2014.
Kristin Higgins, VTrans project manager, announced those plans on Jan. 25 at a gathering of more than 20 people at Middlebury’s Ilsley Library. Participants included neighbors of the 88-year-old span that crosses the Middlebury River at the bottom of a particularly curvy section of Route 125.
The bridge, located near a popular swimming spot and a historic ironworks site, is crossed each day by approximately 2,000 vehicles. It has been deteriorating and has been targeted by VTrans for replacement for several years. But the project has lingered on the state’s drawing board in wake of insufficient funding and a spirited debate on how to do the work with the least impact on the environment and traffic on scenic Route 125.
Recent proposals have included phasing the bridge replacement over two seasons, or erecting a temporary bridge adjacent to the construction site in order to maintain through traffic. But those plans have drawn criticism for being too expensive, too drawn-out and potentially too damaging to the surrounding environment.
Instead, VTrans is proposing what Higgins called “an accelerated bridge construction process.” It is a process that Higgins said will allow the Sand Hill Bridge to be replaced in less than two months using an aggressive work schedule and a building process that will use a lot of pre-made components. In other words, major pieces of the bridge — such as pre-cast concrete items — will be made off-site, trucked into place when ready, and assembled. This saves time that would otherwise be spent pouring concrete and allowing it to cure, Higgins explained.
“We can design fast, we can build fast,” Higgins said of a VTrans philosophy that has gained momentum during the state’s rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
“Our motto is, ‘Get in, get out and stay out.’”
The nearby Lower Plains Bridge in East Middlebury, destroyed by flooding, was replaced in 2009 using an accelerated work schedule.
Greg Goodrich, an engineer with VHB Inc. of North Ferrisburgh assigned to the project, noted that Middlebury-based J.P. Carrara & Sons specializes in pre-cast concrete work and could supply some of the material. The company, located two miles from the Sand Hill Bridge, provided such services for Middlebury’s Cross Street Bridge.
Goodrich said plans call for an entirely new Sand Hill Bridge (at a cost of $1.5 million to $2 million), as opposed to the previous notion of preserving the Roman arch element of the current span. While the arch is still robust enough to support traffic, officials don’t want to take the chance of seeing it deteriorate and bring the project back to square one.
“We expect our bridges to last a minimum of 75 years, so this bridge … has done its duty,” Goodrich said.
The current bridge is 20-feet, 6-inches wide from curb to curb, with no sidewalk. The new bridge would have a width of 36 feet, with 11-foot lanes, a 4-foot shoulder on the upstream side and a 3-foot shoulder with sidewalk on the downstream side.
Goodrich noted the alignment of the replacement bridge would fall close to the existing alignment, though the centerline of Route 125 would shift to the east by around 6 feet. It is a structure that would feature guardrails and a handrail for pedestrians.
Officials conceded there will be one sizable disadvantage to an accelerated rebuild of the Sand Hill Bridge: Route 125 will have to be closed to through traffic during construction. That prospect has drawn concerns from Ripton and East Middlebury residents, as well from commercial haulers who use Route 125 as a link from Route 7 to Route 100 in Hancock.
For trucks and through travelers, it would mean detouring down Route 7 south into Brandon, to pick up Route 73 to get to Route 100, adding about 18 miles to the driver’s trip.
For area residents and emergency vehicles, the detour would mean using Upper Plains Road and Beaver Pond Road in Salisbury to get from Route 7 to Ripton.
Higgins said the state will try to minimize the inconvenience of the detour. The inconvenienced towns can expect some additional aid for road maintenance to reflect the increased traffic in the detour areas, assistance for more traffic enforcement, and signs to steer vehicles to the Route 73 detour.
She stressed, however, that Salisbury, Middlebury and Ripton would be allowed to decide if they want to sign the local detour. The towns could decide against publicizing the alternative route in order to reduce the chances of heavy traffic inundating local roads. Higgins said communities and businesses could also collaborate on posters and Internet notices to alert tourists and shoppers that local landmarks and stores will be a little more difficult to access, but nonetheless open.
If there is to be any consolation, the detour would be relatively brief, officials said.
“While detours are not desirable, they are finite,” Goodrich said.
Higgins laid out a tentative timetable calling for:
• Preliminary project plans to be ready by April of this year.
• Final design ready by June 1, 2013.
• Bids out by December 2013.
• Contract awarded by January 2014.
• Construction to begin during the summer of 2014. Higgins said VTrans would be able to coordinate the timing of the project so that it doesn’t coincide with major events, such as graduations. But the project could pose a particular challenge to people attending programs at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus and those heading back and forth from East Middlebury to Granville, Goshen and Hancock, noted Democratic State Rep. Willem Jewett, who lives in Ripton.
“The closure will cause a lot of anxiety in these communities,” Jewett said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.