Salisbury & Cornwall opt for covered bridge
SALISBURY/CORNWALL — A majority of townspeople and public officials in both Cornwall and Salisbury want the state to build a new version of the historic Station Covered Bridge that once connected the two towns across the Otter Creek, via Creek Road (in Salisbury) and Swamp Road (in Cornwall).
A suspicious fire destroyed the 154-foot-long Station covered bridge on Sept. 10, 2016. But Vermont State Police have yet to charge anyone in connection with the blaze, which some have simply chalked up to spontaneous combustion.
Loss of the bridge forced detours until the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) installed a basic, temporary span that’s still accommodating around 540 vehicles per day. In the meantime, VTrans has been working with Salisbury and Cornwall stakeholders on permanent replacement options for a 157-year-old covered bridge that not only provided transport for vehicles, but also a home for bats.
Planning hit a major milestone late last year, when VTrans presented leaders of both towns with three long-term replacement options:
- A new steel-beam, concrete-deck bridge that would be 150 feet long, with the option of one or two lanes, and a 75-year design life. Total cost: $2.15 million for the one-lane version, or $2,218,902 for two. The local share for each town: around $110,000.
- A new truss bridge of 150 feet in length, with a choice of one or two lanes. Lifespan of 75 years. Total cost: $3,312,446 for the one-lane version, $3,863,066 for two. The local share for each town would be $165,622 for the one-lane, $193,153 for two.
- New covered bridge: 150 feet long, one lane only, 14-foot lane width, 75-year lifespan. Total cost: $4,387,004, with a local share of $219,350 for each town.
Selectboard members from both towns reviewed the three options and wanted to get an accurate read on their constituents’ preferences. So, both Salisbury and Cornwall mailed postage-paid survey cards to each local address last month, asking recipients to pick their top choice among the three bridge scenarios.
“We were very surprised and pleased,” Salisbury Selectman Paul Vaczy said of the survey return rate. “When we were putting together the packages to send out, we didn’t think we’d get (that kind of return). We got quite a few folks.”
Cornwall Selectman John Roberts revealed the survey results:
- A slight plurality of Salisbury residents (189) sided with the covered bridge replacement option, closely followed by the concrete deck version (182) and then the truss bridge (42).
- A decisive majority of Cornwall respondents opted for the covered span (275), followed by the concrete-deck version (145) and then the steel truss (50).
Members of the Cornwall and Salisbury selectboards met on May 17 to pour over the results and to finalize their own preferences. After an extensive discussion, the combined members voted 7-1 in favor of the covered bridge, with Cornwall’s Brian Kemp opposed. Officials will forward the majority preference to VTrans for further planning and design.
Town officials acknowledged the covered bridge replacement is not without drawbacks. Such spans are more susceptible to malicious mischief, arson (because of their wood fabrication) and damage caused by drivers of large vehicles who ignore maximum weight/height warning signs.
“We’re worried about the potential for future vandalism, but there are ways to hopefully minimize that,” Roberts said, alluding to security cameras and ordinances as possible deterrents.
But the pluses of a new covered bridge outweighs the minuses for most Cornwall residents who’ve weighed in. In addition to the covered bridge’s nod to Vermont history and rural character, the span will — by virtue of its tight confines — self-regulate the size of vehicles on what is a fairly rugged road.
Swamp Road was installed during the 18th century, with a base of logs through Cedar Swamp. The road is currently forbidden to vehicles weighing more than 12,000 pounds and/or more than eight feet wide. Those limits, coupled with the narrow passage afforded by the Station bridge, have historically steered away 18-wheelers, tandem dump trucks and farm vehicles that might otherwise chance the route if it were equipped with a more conventional, two-lane bridge.
Vaczy is hoping VTrans will consider a “hybrid” covered bridge design that he believes could make the span more durable and easier to maintain, while remaining inhospitable to large vehicles. The idea is to incorporate steel into the frame, walls and/or roof of the new bridge. This would make it less flammable and perhaps less of a magnet for potential vandals and arsonists, according to Vaczy.
“It should also cut down on the price of construction, because it could be (built) faster,” Vaczy said.
WHAT THE TOWNS PAY
The state of Vermont will cover 90% of the bridge replacement costs, with each town responsible for 5%.
And the local 5% share shouldn’t be a financial strain for either town. That’s because both Cornwall and Salisbury had insured the Station bridge well prior to its destruction. In Cornwall’s case, Roberts has said the insurer is obligated to pay up to $750,000 of the town’s replacement burden.
It’s nice to have a financial cushion, but Vaczy is wary.
“Once of the biggest concerns from the town of Salisbury is that prices are going up, inflation is a possibility down the road, and recession,” he said. “We need to make sure, from Salisbury’s perspective, that whatever gets built, our match falls within the amount of insurance money we have available, so it doesn’t (affect) the taxpayers. We took out a bond on a bridge in the village that we’re still paying on. We don’t have the ability to do that twice.”
In a further effort to reduce project costs, both town selectboards support the strategy of closing off the project area (with signed detours) to traffic so the new bridge can get built more quickly. The alternative would be to maintain a temporary bridge over the creek and erect the new span during a lengthier process.
Vaczy is pleased with how the two communities have worked together. It’s looking like a 2025 timeframe for the new bridge to be installed.
“The towns of Salisbury and Cornwall want to do everything together, so that no town makes a decision without consultation and agreement with the other,” he said. “We’re always been on the same page and I think we’ve done a good job working collaboratively.”
John Flowers is at email@example.com.
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