Bristol bridge replacement projects to be delayed for six months

BRISTOL — Replacing two bridges in Bristol — the South Street Bridge and the Route 116 “Stoplight Bridge” — has been on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s to-do list since the early ’80s. VTrans officials meeting with Bristol selectboard members Monday said the timetable for completing that work would be pushed back six months from the timeframe they gave in March.
Backlogged from a heavy workload dealt by Tropical Storm Irene, VTrans won’t send out requests for bids from contractors until the end of 2012 for the South Street Bridge, said Mike Hedges, structures program manager for VTrans. The project will then be on course to finish by the end of 2013.
But no one is making any promises, explained Town Administrator Bill Bryant.
“They obviously weren’t giving us any guarantees,” he said. “And that’s about a year longer than what we talked about (in the summer of 2010) when it was first closed.”
The Stoplight Bridge replacement project will be pushed back to 2013 or early 2014, in part due to Irene recovery work and in part due to a structural redesign that the selectboard requested in March. The redesign will decrease the height of the bridge by about eight feet on its south side, reducing the height and angle of a new hill that will be formed at the intersection of Carlstrom Road and Route 116. 
“We lost a couple of months due to the redesign and a couple of months due to Irene, but at this point, we’re going ahead,” said Hedges about the Stoplight Bridge replacement. “This is one of our highest priorities, so we’ll keep this moving along.”
Selectboard Chair Joel Bouvier was pleased with the news.
“I was expecting you to say it looks like 2015-2016,” he said. “When you said, ‘six months (of delay).’ I said, ‘OK, we’ll take that!’”
VTrans engineer Martha Evans-Mongeon has been managing the Route 116 bridge replacement project since 2003.
When she explained that the bridge’s height was reduced, several members of the selectboard and public in attendance inquired about its safety in the face of floods.
“We can still meet what are called our hydraulic standards,” she replied.
One thing the new bridge will do, Evans-Mongeon added, is clear the immediate flood plain of the New Haven River.
“We’re now spanning the flood plain … so there’s more horizontal room for the river to move around and have access to the flood plain, which has been one of the issues talked about (after Irene),” she said. “And that’s what the structure does by being so long.”
Meanwhile, VTrans Deputy Secretary Sue Minter explained how Irene taught the agency to mitigate costs and accelerate the process of building bridges and roads.
“There are ways that we want to use this Irene experience and expedite (the bridge-building process),” said Minter. “We know very well you and many other communities have been waiting a long time, and we have a long list of bridges, so we’re trying to move whatever ones we can through quickly and at a lower cost.”
One of the best ways to build a bridge that way is to close the road it’s on, said Minter.
“We are going to try to look more to … close a road (when rebuilding bridges), and it depends on how far the detour is and the average daily traffic counts,” she said.
But Evans-Mongeon explained that she had explored that option for the Route 116 bridge several years ago. The problem is that a closure of Route 116 would detour an abundance of large trucks through downtown Middlebury for an extended period of time.
“We sort of decided it’s not a good option here because the size of the bridge we’re building would mean (the road) would have to be closed for a considerable period of time,” said Evan-Mongeon.
Nonetheless, Minter touted those road closures as one of the main reasons that damage estimates for federal reimbursement after Tropical Storm Irene were recently cut in half, to what she said was $175 million to $250 million.
“When you close a road you do not incur a lot of costs, you speed up the process (and) you don’t have to manage traffic. (Not to mention) all of the costs that go into (that extra work),” she said. “Time is money.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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