SHOREHAM — The Vermont Agency of Transportation will soon solicit bids for replacement of the concrete deck on the bridge that spans the Lemon Fair River on Route 74 in Shoreham, a project that’s expected to last more than a month and create some traveling headaches for commuters and businesses.
The 182-foot-long bridge was built in 1939. The concrete piers and deck have show growing signs of wear and tear in recent years, culminating this past winter in a large hole that appeared near the middle of one of the travel lanes.
State officials, as a stopgap, installed some metal plates over the hole.
“It’s still safe for use,” said Pamela Thurber, bridge management and inspection engineer for VTrans.
While the bridge has been deemed safe for travel right now, VTrans is moving quickly to replace the deteriorating deck. The agency is putting out a call for contractors and plans to award the work to the winning bidder in late August, according to Thurber. This could set the stage for work to begin in early September and last from 27 to 50 days, according to Thurber.
State officials will be signing detours to bypass the bridge during construction. The detours will direct drivers to alterative state roads (and not town roads), such as Routes 22A, 125 and 30.
Shoreham Town Clerk Amy Douglas said the bridge closure will affect local residents’ driving habits.
“It’s the main route to Middlebury, except for people on the west part of town (who take Route 30),” Douglas said. “And with the ferry open, it’s a major thoroughfare for traffic through October.”
Douglas noted the Shoreham selectboard has already discussed the project and its potential impact on the community. The detours are also likely to affect school bus travel for some Shoreham students.
“It’s fairly major,” she said of the likely impact of the bridge closure.
Sunrise Orchards off North Bingham Street in Cornwall figures to suffer major inconveniences while the Route 74 bridge is closed. Orchardist Barney Hodges Jr. noted that Sunrise annually trucks its crop of around 130,000 bushels to Vermont Refrigerated Storage in Shoreham. That route has traditionally included Route 74 via the bridge over the Lemon Fair River.
Closure of the bridge will mean a detour for Sunrise to truck its crop from North Bingham Street to Route 22A in Bridport, then turn south to Shoreham. The 35-mile, round-trip detour is expected to cost Hodges an additional $15,000 in transportation expenses during this year’s harvest, a financial blow he recently learned he will not be able to soften through any federal or state loan programs. Apple growers, like dairy farmers, have already been facing razor-thin operating margins.
Particularly frustrating for Hodges is the timing of the project.
“It’s as perfectly inconvenient as it could be,” Hodges said.
That said, Hodges is willing to put up with the temporary hardship in order to see the bridge fixed. Trucks bearing Sunrise apples are legally permitted to weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Hodges has long had concerns about the ability of the span to bear these and the other heavy loads it is being asked to support.
“That bridge is scary,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.