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Sand Hill Bridge plan takes shape

 
EAST MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) has decided to completely replace the Sand Hill Bridge on Route 125 in East Middlebury and will not pursue a temporary span to allow through-traffic during construction — slated for 2014, at the earliest.
Middlebury officials confirmed that tack following their May 10 meeting with VTrans personnel regarding the 1924 bridge that is located over a scenic gorge and popular swimming hole in the Middlebury River. The span has fallen into disrepair to the extent that state and local officials agree it needs to be replaced. But the manner of replacement has been in dispute.
Some East Middlebury and Ripton residents have pressed for a temporary bridge to be erected during construction to maintain what is a busy east-west corridor used by cars and hauling trucks headed up Route 125 to Ripton village, the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and Bread Loaf campus, and a connection to Route 100 in Hancock.
Area residents have also voiced concerns about how the bridge project could disrupt fire and ambulance service to the area if no temporary bridge is erected during construction.
Engineers had also explored the possibility of phasing construction in a manner that would allow for one lane of Route 125 to remain open for the duration of the project.
But Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger said VTrans is keen on replacing the bridge quickly — perhaps over six- to eight weeks — without a temporary span. This would require detours. For trucks, it would mean detouring approximately 34 miles on a route that went south down Route 7 to Brandon, over the Green Mountains on Route 73 to Rochester and back up Route 100.
For cars, the detour would likely mean using Upper Plains Road and Beaver Pond Road in Salisbury to get from Route 7 to Ripton.
“The recommendation now is for Sand Hill Bridge to be replaced in its entirety with a new arch bridge … and closing Route 125 for the entirety of the construction period, and they are proposing to design a bridge that would be a ‘quick construction bridge’ that would be pre-cast concrete, except for the footings,” Finger said.
VTrans planners have argued a temporary bridge would have added significantly to the cost of the project and posed some logistical issues with what is a curvy and sensitive site. Along with being a popular recreation area, the site is also in the vicinity of an historic ironworks.
One of the community’s two primary water mains currently runs under the Sand Hill Bridge.
Finger said he and the Middlebury Department of Public Works will reach out to Salisbury in an effort to help mitigate the effects of a detour when the project begins. And that beginning might be farther off than 2014; town officials noted that federal lawmakers are talking about the prospect of dramatic cuts in transportation funding to the states.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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