BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The demolition and reconstruction of the Saxtons River Bridge in Bellows Falls could be slated for as early as March of 2023, with the potential of it being pushed back to 2014, according to officials at the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
The 80-year-old bridge was originally scheduled to be repaired over a two-month period this summer, however, the project was cancelled when contractors discovered that the condition of the old bridge, specifically the steel girders supporting the structure, was much worse than originally estimated.
An engineer from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, C. B. McCarthy, recently met with the Rockingham Selectboard and the Saxtons River Village Trustees to discuss the project, and he believes the bridge project could be completed in eight months, which includes the demolition of the old bridge.
“We are currently redesigning the project to include new structural steel girders,” McCarthy said in a recent interview. “The rest of the project will remain as previously designed, and we are planning to re-advertise the project for construction bids in the spring of 2023. Although, little to no construction will actually take place in 2023.”
Also under consideration was a temporary bridge, but McCarthy indicated that the additional work would be very expensive and actually delay the main project because it would require additional design and rights of way work.
A big concern for Saxtons River residents is that during the construction process the bridge will be closed, severing the main road between the village and Bellows Falls. The main interruption will be along Back Westminster Road, which runs parallel to Interstate 91 and ends at Exit 5. Alternative routes include Rockingham Hill Road and Pleasant Valley Road, both located in Rockingham.
The start of the bridge construction project will depend on multiple factors, including whether the original contractor, Renaud Brothers Inc. of Vernon, Vt., would remain on the project now that it is moving forward with an updated design.
Another important factor is how readily available the structural steel for the project is and when it can be ordered and delivered. Although the “wait times” aren’t as severe as they were when the pandemic first hit, it is still unclear how quickly materials can be delivered, therefore, the newly completed designs and getting the steel ordered will determine when the project begins.
“There will be minimal, if any, construction starting in 2023 as there is a 12–14-month lead time required for fabrication of the structural steel for this 220-foot, three span bridge,” McCarthy said. “We are expecting construction on site to begin in the spring of 2024.”
The new bridge will be slightly wider, giving room for a breakdown lane and pedestrian space on either side of the bridge span. However, if made too wide, an additional girder would be needed that would require a larger re-design of the project.
“For a project of this nature, we expect the bridge will be closed for the entire construction season [April through October of 2024],” McCarthy added. “There is a considerable amount of work required to remove the existing concrete deck and structural steel, then setting the new structural steel and constructing the new concrete deck. There is also a considerable amount of roadway approach work to complete on this project.”