By Lisa Loomis
The Waitsfield covered bridge will be closed next Monday, May 18, and will be closed to vehicular traffic until September. Pedestrian access will continue until mid-June.
The bridge will be opened to pedestrian traffic on July 12 for the Mad Marathon.
The closure is part of an extensive project involving removing the pedestrian portion of the bridge, replacing the decking, rebuilding an abutment to support a new pedestrian walkway on the bridge, plus repairing stormwater drainage systems on Bridge Street and repaving Bridge Street.
When the prefabricated pedestrian bridge is installed, it will be via a crane on the east side of the bridge. That work required moving a utility pole from its current location on the west side of the river. That work got under way this week, according to Waitsfield town administrator Valerie Capels, who briefed the select board and public at a May 11 meeting. She said that it will take a week or two for Green Mountain Power and Waitsfield Telecom to move their lines.
“The street will be closed starting next Monday and excavation to replace the stormwater system starts next week. Then the covered bridge will be dismantled, starting with the roof. Pedestrian access will be maintained through mid-June. Then they’ll dismantle the deck and take the pedestrian bridge off. The stormwater work has to be completed by July 8. The street will be backfilled and have a dirt surface or possibly a base coat of asphalt in preparation for the July 12 event,” she explained.
After the marathon, work will begin to extend the abutments that will support the new pedestrian bridge. After July 12, Bridge Street is expected to be open to vehicles, parking and pedestrians.
At this week’s select board meeting, the board discussed what, if any, actions should be taken regarding the designated detour routes, Tremblay Road, Joslin Hill Road and Common Road.
“I’d like to ask that the sheriff be redirected to Common Road and Joslin Hill Road. When the bridge is closed it dramatically increases traffic and speed on those roads. I’d like to slow those cars down,” select board member Scott Kingsbury said.
Joe Klimek, an East Warren Road resident, asked if the town had any plans to prep or modify Rolston Road (a Class 4 road that runs from East Warren Road to Route 100) to handle more traffic.
Board members pointed out that Rolston Road is not an official detour for the project and further noted that it is not physically possible to make that road wide enough for two cars to pass each other on the full length of the road.
The closure of the bridge and Bridge Street has had some merchants upset; however, merchants, the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce and the town have been working on creative ways to keep those businesses healthy during the closure including signage, special events and other creative marketing ideas.
Capels told the select board that the town is exempt from its own sign ordinance so the town can place signs about the businesses of Bridge Street being open and directing people where to park. The town is also willing to waive the costs of permits for events during this time period.
Barbra Gulisano, who owns the blue building that houses Peasant and other businesses on Bridge Street, raised concerns about vandalism and kids swimming on and near the deconstructed bridge. She offered the side of her building for a video camera if necessary.
Jim Ligon of Alpine Construction, the contractor for the project, explained at a meeting with merchants last week that construction crews will be working four 10-hour days to complete the project, vacating the street on Thursday evenings.
To complete the project, construction crews plan to work four 10-hour days. The Village will be free of construction activity starting Friday and through the weekend, and “We’ll try to leave it in the best condition we can,” Ligon said, so that locals and tourists can safely access the different services in the area.
The town is starting a project that was originally planned to start four years ago. The town put the project out to bid last summer, after having it delayed first by Tropical Storm Irene and then by the reconstruction after that. Prior to it going out to bid, the town met with representatives of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce as well as Bridge Street and Bridge Street Marketplace business owners to talk about the impacts of construction and strategies to support businesses during the process.
When the bids came in last summer, they were all over budget and the project could not happen in 2014. The town received additional grant funding this year and voters authorized the town to borrow up to $400,000 toward the project at Town Meeting this year.
Two of the initial grants that the town has for the project will be lost in September and December if the town doesn’t complete the work. FEMA funding for the retaining wall repair needs to be used by September 1 and EPA grant funds for the stormwater system will be lost if not completed by December 31.
When the project was put out to bid this winter, the bid documents specified that work must be completed by July 31. While the town accepted the low bid in January, the contract could not be executed until after voters approved the spending at Town Meeting. This resulted in a two-month delay in the contractor’s ability to order materials. Specifically this meant that the metal sidewalk structure to replace the pedestrian bridge was backordered and the July 31 deadline could not be met.