There was no enthusiasm from the public for removing the pedestrian sidewalk on the north side of the Waitsfield covered bridge at a public hearing to discuss the fate of the bridge this week.
The Waitsfield Select Board held a hearing to discuss repairs to the bridge, its current condition and how to best use a $270,000 state grant to update/improve the bridge. The state grant is a matching grant towards which the town contributed 20 percent, or $54,000.
At this week's meeting, Town Administrator Valerie Capels explained that
there are several problems with the bridge that impact its stability.
The sidewalk is cantilevered off the north side of the bridge and that
is causing the bridge to twist/list to the north.
The sidewalk may need to be moved, supported differently or counterbalanced. It was the issue of removing the sidewalk that generated the most comments from those present and via email. Not a single person spoke or emailed suggesting that the pedestrian access be removed or placed inside the travel lane of the bridge.
Most spoke in favor of keeping the sidewalk and suggested counterweighting the sidewalk, supporting it separately, or finding another way to keep the external sidewalk. Other issues include the need for some of the wooden decking planks and bolts to be replaced along with some of the structural members.
There is a scour hole on the downstream side of the western abutment which needs to be addressed, the roof (currently cedar shingles) may need to be replaced or changed to keep snow loads from sticking and the bridge needs to be repainted.
Beyond the issues of what repairs are done, engineer Evan Detrick of DuBois and King explained to the roomful of people with comments, there are issues of timing the repair, how long the bridge will be closed, where the work area will be staged and how traffic will be managed during that time.
Public discussion comment focused on the need for maintaining pedestrian access through the bridge and also on the importance of the village/town icon. Neighbor Jane Goodwin suggested that the "no truck" ban needs to be enforced and Myndy Woodruff, a former select board member whose property adjoins the bridge, presented the board with a hand-drawn illustrated list of repairs and issues he thinks need to be addressed.
Woodruff suggested that the curb on the northwest approach be lowered or removed allowing the wasted space on the river side to be used for better abutment support. He suggested that any change to a metal roof include a non-glare roof and asked that the town straighten up the bent traffic signs at either end. He suggested a trash can at either end of the bridge and improvements to the path leading down to the swim hole near the bridge.
Others suggested fake slate roofing materials because snow slides off easily and it is lightweight. Warren architect Ellen Strauss reminded the group that the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and that cedar may be the historically appropriate roofing material, even though the bridge has had a metal roof at one point. Select board member Paul Hartshorn suggested that a metal roof would keep people from jumping off the roof of the bridge.
The issue of swimmers jumping off the roof of the bridge was discussed in terms of wear and tear on the cedar shingles and some jokingly suggested that a diving platform be built on the south side of the bridge to create a counterweight for the cantilevered pedestrian walkway on the north side.
Detrick explained that the specifics of what needed to be fixed and how to best fix things - including conformance with historical preservation standards - would be brought back before the select board by the end of October. In terms of the sidewalk, he pointed out that removing it might not be a possibility because the sidewalk has existed long enough to have attained official historic status as well.
Representatives of the wedding industry, present at the meeting, asked that the select board and engineers take into consideration weddings and other events scheduled during summer and fall that utilized the covered bridge. Dori Ingalls, representing a marathon scheduled for The Valley and through the covered bridge, asked the town to take the scheduling of that race into consideration as well.
Waitsfield Fire Chief Delbert Palmer also asked for clarification on whether the bridge would be completely closed and, if so, for how long. Detrick said he could not promise any specific timeframe until the analysis had been completed but said he hoped the work could be done in anywhere from a "couple to a few weeks."
He also said it might be possible to have the bridge closed during the week and open on the weekend. Darryl Forrest, who serves on the town's municipal water project implementation task force, suggested that the timing of the bridge be coordinated with the timing of the water project - which will entail installing piping underground on Route 100 through the village.