Bristol village bridge closes for repairs

BRISTOL — The bridge across the New Haven River at South Street in the Bristol village closed for repairs Tuesday and will not open again until 2012 at the earliest, according to Bristol Town Administrator Bill Bryant.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation, known as VTrans, inspected the bridge last week as a follow up to an inspection last October.
On both occasions, VTrans reported that the bridge is in very poor condition due to accelerated and extreme deterioration of the truss members (the metal beams that form the triangles on a truss bridge) and the gusset plates (the connectors that link the beams of the bridge to the weight-bearing columns).
According to Bryant, the VTrans report asserted that the bridge’s deterioration has decreased its load carrying capacity to unsafe levels, and must be closed until the problem can be fixed.
Getting that fix done could take a long time, Bryant said.
“Having the bridge open again by 2012 would be the fast track,” he said, after meeting with VTrans about the problem on Monday. “This is a major construction project.”
According to Bryant, the town has two options to consider for fixing the bridge’s safety concerns; the first is rehabilitation of the current structure, and the second is replacement. In both cases, the bridge needs to be physically removed before further steps can be taken; a process that takes time.
Within the replacement option, there are also two choices: a steel girder and concrete bridge, or a prefab truss bridge.
“The two choices have different pros and cons; we need to look at all the issues together before we can make a decision,” Bryant said.
Fixing the bridge would cost about $2 million regardless of which option the Bristol selectboard chooses, according to Bryant.
If the town opts for rehabilitation it will be responsible for 5 percent of the cost, and if it chooses the replacement option it would be responsible for 10 percent — the state would pick up the difference. That means, in the end the project will cost the town between $95,000 and $210,000.
Bryant stressed that the project is still very much in the planning stages, and more details will be available as meetings between the Bristol selectboard and VTrans continue.
“These are rough preliminary estimates,” he said. “We expect a written status report from VTrans about the repairs in the upcoming weeks. After that we can arrange for VTrans to meet with the selectboard and discuss our options.” That meeting is tentatively set for Aug. 30.
The shortest detour around the South Street Bridge is 1.5 miles long and will cause the biggest inconvenience to residents of Bristol Notch who frequently visit Bristol village, Bryant said.
He explained that if the town had waited any longer to close the bridge it would have risked losing state and federal funding for the project. Safety for Bristol residents was also a major factor in the decision.
“We need to err on the side of safety rather than worry about the inconvenience closing the bridge will cause,” Bryant said.

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