Remnants of burned covered bridge are cleared

CORNWALL — Workers have until Dec. 9 to remove the charred remnants of the former Swamp Road covered bridge, in anticipation of the Vermont Agency of Transportation installing a temporary span to restore traffic between Salisbury and Cornwall before Jan. 1, 2017.
That update was provided on Nov. 23 by Cornwall Selectman Brian Kemp and Salisbury Selectman Paul Vaczy, the local liaisons to VTrans in the aftermath of the Sept. 10 fire that destroyed the historic covered bridge spanning the Otter Creek on Swamp Road.
Vermont State Police called the fire suspicious, though its origin has yet to be confirmed. The absence of the 151-year-old span has forced commuters to take substantial detours while state and local officials plan the next steps that will eventually lead to a new, permanent bridge.
The Salisbury and Cornwall selectboards met together on Oct. 31 to open bids from contractors interested in removing what was left of the old bridge, including large pieces that had fallen into the Otter Creek. The boards unanimously voted to accept a bid of $93,506 from Wright Construction of Mt. Holly, in the process bypassing a lower bid submitted by Cornwall contractor Sean Stearns of S & J Stearns Inc.
“Our reasoning for taking the bid that we took is because the (winning) contractor had experience with bridges and working over water,” Vaczy said. “And in speaking with VTrans, (Wright Construction) was one of the recommended contractors.”
Wright Construction workers late last week had staged their equipment on the Cornwall side of the bridge. They had taken down the sides of the bridge and had recovered much of the debris that had fallen into the creek. Workers were preparing to cut the charred bridge deck into sections to be trucked to the Salisbury landfill.
Once the bridge remains are completely removed, VTrans will move a single-lane temporary span into place. Kemp said it remains to be seen whether VTrans will choose to place traffic signals at the temporary bridge. Kemp believes drivers will have enough site visibility from both ends of the span to move through without the need for signalization.
With traffic finally restored, town officials will take a deep breath and plan for community meetings to help determine what kind of permanent span will be built at the site. Kemp and Vaczy believe some folks will want to see a new covered bridge, while others will probably push for a more conventional bridge and deck.
It’s clear at this point that town officials don’t want to see a heavier, wider replacement bridge, which they believe could invite heavier traffic through a swampy terrain — particularly on the Cornwall side — that is ill-suited for vehicles with massive payloads.
“We need to see what the road can take,” Kemp said.
Money will also play a big role in determining the future bridge. Kemp said the towns are expecting a combined total of around $1 million in insurance money for loss of the covered bridge.
“Anything new will cost a lot more than that,” Kemp said.
That means Salisbury and Cornwall will need to look for grants, any available state assistance, and local funding to cover what the insurance settlement won’t.
For now, though, it’s about restoring traffic to a surprisingly well-traveled road that has been shut off to through traffic for the past two months.
“I think the contractor is currently doing a good job,” Vaczy said.
Vaczy said he and others continue to miss the old covered bridge, which was in very good shape at the time it caught fire — it had been renovated less than 10 years before. At 154 feet, it was one of the longest single spans in the state until 1969, when a mid-stream pier was added for extra support. Its plank-lattice design was first patented in 1820 by architect Ithiel Town of New Haven, Conn.
“That was a place you would go through just to check out the bridge,” Vaczy said. “It should’ve lasted another 100 years.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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