BRATTLEBORO—The Interstate 91 bridge that spans the West River remains on track to open November 2016 after a series of delays pushed back the original 2015 deadline.
The state Agency of Transportation (AOT), construction companies FIGG Engineering Group, of Florida, and PCL Civil Constructors, Inc., of Virginia trekked to Brattleboro to provide a project update on Tuesday.
Bad weather, soil issues, and permitting issues ended hopes that the project would be finished by the winter of 2015-16.
Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter broke that unpleasant news to the Brattleboro Selectboard and department heads on March 23.
“This bridge is behind schedule,” she said at the time. “That is not the news I like to bring to you.”
On Tuesday, Minter, FIGG, and PCL had better news for town officials and concerned residents: everything is going well so far during this construction season.
Construction workers are building the bridge in a balanced cantilever method, said Caleb Linn of PCL Construction.
This method encompasses adding sections of the bridge starting from the columns located on the river banks and moving toward the middle in 16-foot chunks, he said.
“I assure everyone it will meet in the middle,” Linn said.
This construction method has been used successfully on many bridges and is very safe, Linn added.
The bridge platform hanging in mid-air during construction, however, may look disconcerting from the road, Linn said. It may lead to rubbernecking by motorists.
The project is safe, Minter assured the audience.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” she cautioned. “We’re concerned about this.”
AOT, PCL, and FIGG have also looked for strategies to alleviate traffic backups during high traffiic periods, such as holiday weekends. The most successful method so far has been closing Exit 3 and detouring traffic through Brattleboro.
AOT anticipates closing Exit 3 over the Fourth of July weekend, said AOT Project Manager Todd Sumner.
Signage warning drivers to seek alternative routes will go up Thursday and Friday, he said. Exit 3 will close Sunday, July 5, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Traffic data has shown most of the cars come from Route 9 west in New Hampshire, said Sumner. AOT is working with its counterparts in New Hampshire to set up signage asking drivers to seek an alternate route before reaching Vermont.
A bridge inspection is planned for the early hours — 5 to 9 a.m. — of July 12, and may require closing the road.
Linda Figg, owner of FIGG, walked the small audience gathered in the Selectboard meeting room in the Municipal Center through the bridge’s design process. The design came after extensive feedback by an aesthetics committee, she said.
The Windham Regional Commission suggested AOT consider launching such a committee after it saw the initial designs.
The interstate bridge soars above the West River. The structure spans 1,000 feet and is the longest in the state. Its $60 million price tag makes it one of the most expensive bridge projects in the state.
The new bridge, with an expected life of 100 years, will have a longer finished span of 1,036 feet.
Demolition of the north bound steel bridge and construction began October 2013 and was completed in early 2014.
Linn outlined the bridge’s construction process.
The bridge’s construction phase includes environmentally conscious consideration like a support structure that does not require building temporary pillars in the river.
The completed bridge will replace two steel bridges, as well as a smaller span over Upper Dummerston Road, he said.
Brattleboro’s bridge is one of six under construction on Interstate 91, according to Minter.
In the past, bridges underwent a design-bid-build process that averages five years before the project reaches the bid stage, she said. The Brattleboro bridge is under an aggressive three-year design-build process, one of the first in the state to use this method.