Bristol residents decry loss of South Street bridge

BRISTOL — Residents of homes just south of Bristol village are complaining about the long detour they have to take to get to town, as a condemned bridge on South Street is slowly torn down.
After state officials determined the bridge to be unsafe in 2010, it was closed to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic. However, residents still walked across the bridge to get to schools, the grocery store and shops, about one quarter of a mile up the hill. In the process of tearing down the bridge to make room for a new one, construction workers removed the concrete bed of the bridge Sept. 16, rendering it impassable for pedestrians.
Lori Jackson, a mother of three school-age children, lives on South Street, about 50 feet west of the bridge. She, like several others on the street, does not own a vehicle, and relied on the bridge to walk to town for groceries and errands. When the bed of the bridge was removed, Jackson last week walked through the water to get to town.
“It’s a two-mile walk to go around,” she said.
Jackson said she had heard that town officials did not want pedestrians to walk along Stony Hill Road, the quickest way to get to town without the bridge, because of heavy traffic and small shoulders on that route, which is also known as Route 116.
Jackson agreed that road is dangerous.
“When my 12-year-old daughter stayed after school and went to the library, she had to walk back down that road,” Jackson said. She added that many residents on South Street have young children.
While there is an Addison County Transportation Resources bus route in Bristol, the nearest stop is at Hewitt Road and Lover’s Lane, which Jackson says is too far for her children to walk.
Jackson believes that there is no safe or convenient route to get to town on foot in lieu of the bridge. She said the town should build a temporary pedestrian bridge while the new span is being constructed.
“The town is cutting a lot of people off down here,” she said.
Patti Smith, who also lives on South Street, owns a vehicle, but said she understands how inconvenient it is for the bridge to be closed for her neighbors without their own transportation.
Smith said it was nice that the bridge was closed to traffic, and said it would be better if the new bridge only served pedestrians. Smith, who has six children, complained about motorists who used to speed down the narrow, winding street.
“It’s going to be a nightmare when it’s reopened to traffic,” Smith said. “There were a number of accidents while it was open — people whip down that hill.”
Smith said she feared someone would be struck by a passing car, and that she would welcome a footbridge instead.
Dustin Quade, who lived with his parents on South Street while attending high school, also recalled dangerous drivers while the bridge was open.
“I’ve seen a lot of speeding, and people walking on the road nearly clipped by farm equipment,” Quade said.
Bristol Town Administrator Bill Bryant said building a new bridge that could accommodate vehicles was vital, as it will allow police and fire crews to easily get to that part of town.
The new bridge will be wider and safer for both vehicles and pedestrians. Bryant said the idea to build a temporary pedestrian bridge was never seriously considered because of the difficult terrain, right-of-way issues and the fact that surrounding land is privately owned. Bryant estimated the cost of a temporary bridge at around $100,000, and said he did not believe that to be the best use of town resources.
“I feel for (the affected residents),” Bryant said. “I understand their burden — three miles in a vehicle is a lot different than walking.”
Bryant acknowledged that walking along Stony Hill Road is dangerous, especially at night, but said the town did not prohibit or discourage people from doing it.
Bryan said Vermont transportation officials learned a lot after Tropical Storm Irene about how to efficiently rebuild roads and bridges.
“We learned these projects can be faster and cheaper without also building a detour route,” Bryant said.
The residents of South Street will have to wait another year. The new bridge is expected to be open by the summer of 2014.

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