Replacement bridge to connect Cornwall, Salisbury
CORNWALL/SALISBURY – Residents of Cornwall and Salisbury will soon be asked to weigh in on options for replacing the historic station covered bridge that once linked the two towns across Otter Creek, via Creek Road (in Salisbury) and Swamp Road ( in Cornwall).
It was on September 10, 2016, that the 154-foot-long covered span was destroyed by a fire that investigators initially deemed suspicious. But Vermont State Police have yet to charge a suspect in connection with the blaze, which some have simply attributed to spontaneous combustion.
The loss of the bridge forced travelers to seek alternate routes until a temporary span was installed. This no-frills temporary span continues to accommodate approximately 540 vehicles per day. While motorists were thrown a lifeline, the same cannot be said for the dozens of bats that once inhabited the Old Station Bridge, built in 1865. The structure underwent extensive renovations in 2008.
Six years have now passed without a permanent replacement of the Pont de la Gare.
But that is about to change.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) completed in 2021 an engineering survey of the station bridge site that included design criteria for possible replacement structures. The study narrowed the options down to three: a new conventional steel girder bridge, a new truss bridge or a new covered bridge.
VTrans officials are asking officials in Salisbury and Cornwall to choose one of the options, for which the state will cover 90% of the costs. Each municipality will be responsible for 5% of the debt. And if the two cities can agree on a choice before the end of this month, the new bridge will enter VTrans’ 2025 construction schedule. Any delay to that schedule would push the project further, according to Cornwall Selectboard vice-chairman John Roberts.
Sensing the urgency, the Cities and VTrans will hold a Zoom meeting on Thursday, April 7 to further discuss the trio of bridge replacement options and accept public input, the primary arbiter on what type of new span will be built over the former Station Bridge Square. Roberts said cities will ask their citizens to indicate their preference in a survey that will soon be sent to all local addresses.
So what if Cornwall residents choose one option and their Salisbury neighbors choose another?
“I guess each selection committee will choose a member to meet in the middle of the (temporary) bridge and toss a coin,” he joked.
The real solution to such a dilemma will require further discussions between the two councils, Roberts acknowledged. And the investigation, officials noted, is not binding.
“We will have to go back to the Cornwall Selection Committee and rethink,” said Salisbury Selection Committee Chairman Paul Vaczy, adding: “We had a very good collaboration (on the project).”
VTrans officials provided residents with basic information about the three replacement options on December 16, 2021. Here is an overview of each option:
• New steel girder bridge: Would be 150 feet long, with the option of one or two lanes, and a lifespan of 75 years. Total cost of this option: $2.15M for the one-lane version or $2,218,902 for both. The local share for each municipality: approximately $110,000.
• New truss bridge: 150 feet long, one or two lanes, with a lane width of 14 feet. 75 year lifespan. Total cost: $3,312,446 for one-lane version, $3,863,066 for both. The local share for each city would be $165,622 for the single track, $193,153 for the two tracks.
• New covered bridge: 150 feet long, single lane, 14 foot lane width, 75 year life. Total cost: $4,387,004, with a local share of $219,350 for each city.
It should be noted that the overall cost and local share would increase significantly for each of the three options if cities insisted on maintaining a temporary bridge for what is expected to be eight months of construction. The estimates provided above reflect the closure of Swamp and Creek roads at the bridge site while work is underway, with a local detour. The shortest detour, according to VTrans, is 13.9 miles, end to end. From Salisbury it would follow Creek Road to Dewey Road, Old Jerusalem Road, Leicester Whiting Road, Route 30 North, to Swamp Road.
“As a selection committee, and I think Salisbury agrees, we believe that if we could do it without the temporary bridge, that’s a better option, as far as taxpayers are concerned,” the commissioner said. of Cornwall Road, Brian Kemp.
Of course, the 5% local share should not be a financial constraint for either city. This is because Cornwall and Salisbury had secured the Station Bridge long before it was destroyed. In the case of Cornwall, Roberts said the insurer is obligated to pay up to $750,000 of the city’s replacement burden – which of course won’t come close to that figure, given the promise of the 90% funded status.
Both cities want to make sure the new span doesn’t encourage drivers of large rigs to flout weight and size limits for vehicles traveling to and over the bridge. Cornwall’s Swamp Road is currently closed to vehicles weighing more than 12,000 pounds and/or more than eight feet wide.
Roberts explained that Swamp Road was installed in the 18th century, with a log base across Cedar Swamp.
“Over time, (the road) shifts and flows,” Roberts noted, “It’s not suited for heavy traffic.”
But road signs have failed to deter some drivers over the years who have driven to the station bridge and damaged it trying to get a large vehicle or piece of equipment across its single lane 12 feet wide.
Kemp noted that the city recently invested considerable funds in repairing Swamp Road, and he doesn’t want to see that upgrade undone by an attack from heavy vehicles emboldened by a stronger bridge.
“My concern as road commissioner is the structural integrity of our road approaching the Highway 30 bridge, through the swamp,” he said. “I don’t want to put anything out there that’s going to open us up to the vulnerability of heavy traffic, using that as a shortcut to East Middlebury or Salisbury.”
Roberts said he’s heard a lot of support so far for installing a new covered bridge. And if it becomes the majority choice, local elected officials want to ensure its sustainability.
“If we build another covered bridge, we need power (for security cameras) and probably an integrated fire suppression system,” he said.
While a new wooden covered bridge would pay homage to Vermont’s transportation heritage and could boost tourism, city officials realize that these structures come with special — and sometimes expensive — maintenance costs. Roberts said a new covered span could perhaps be made more sustainable through 21st century engineering and strong infrastructure. He hopes to hear more details about the maintenance during the April 7 Zoom meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Log on to tinyurl.com/mr3fdmm5 to find out how to attend.
John Flowers is at [email protected].