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Town gets visit from AOT on Sacketts Brook Bridge

Bridge needs replacement, and several options are on the table

PUTNEY—In preparation for the replacement of the bridge on Route 5 that runs over the Sacketts Brook, officials with the state’s Agency of Transportation (AOT) recently held a public hearing at the Putney Fire Department.

Construction of the replacement for the circa-1954 bridge is estimated to begin in 2017, but right-of-way delays could push the project out to 2018.

The Feb. 24 hearing, which the AOT called a “regional concerns meeting,” included project managers, engineers, consultants, and planners who are involved in the bridge replacement.

They were there to present the project and seek public input — some of which was collected via little hand-held voting devices, registering responses to such questions as “Which railing do you like?"

As Scoping Project Manager Jennifer Fitch told attendees, even though the AOT has determined Bridge #15’s deck needs replacing, part of the public hearing is presenting alternatives to nearly every aspect of the project, including replacing the deck.

As Scoping Project Engineer Jonathan Griffin explained, with the aid of a slideshow, the AOT considered three options to determine “how much more life could we get out of” the bridge.

The first option, which was “not recommended” by the AOT, was to take no action, Griffin said. He explained that deterioration of the bridge’s deck — its surface — will continue, and “we’ll have a larger problem in the future."

In another slide, Griffin showed photographs of the underside of the deck, and pointed out the efflorescence of the concrete, where water and chloride from winter salting had saturated the deck.

“The deck doesn’t have the full integrity it once had,” he said, noting in “an ideal deck” the water could not penetrate the concrete.

This is why the second option — patch the deck — was also rejected by the AOT. Once workers begin demolishing the damaged parts of the deck in search of a secure spot to anchor the patches, Griffin said “there’s no place to stop and start patching.”

Thus, the AOT recommends the third option: deck replacement. The plan is to replace the deck with full-depth pre-cast panels, which, as Fitch explained, will reduce bridge closure time and cost less money. The panels are constructed off-site, trucked in, and laid into place, she said.

The good news is, the bridge’s beams are in good shape, Griffin said, so they will not need replacement.

Most of the bridge, including the super- and substructures, Griffin said, are rated by the AOT as one notch below the rating a new bridge usually gets. The deck, while rated only “fair,” is still secure enough for the AOT to wait another year or two before beginning construction.

The new bridge will maintain the existing bridge width and lane configuration, but the striping will offer additional space in the shoulder for bicyclists and pedestrians.

One “resource constraint” Griffith mentioned is, the bridge has historic guardrails. This means the historic preservation wing of the AOT has to review the railing plans.

“I haven’t seen this particular rail design anywhere else in Vermont,” AOT Historic Preservation Specialist Kyle Obenauer told attendees. He deemed the bridge “interesting,” and noted that, beginning with the flood of 1927, there was a “shift in Vermont to standardize bridge construction.”

He said the railing, original to the 1954 bridge construction, is “pretty intact."

“If we have a chance to preserve or retain one of the original features of the original bridge or railing, we think that’s a great opportunity,” Obenauer said.

Figuring out the bridge design is the easy part, Fitch said.

“It’s maintenance of traffic that’s really tricky,” she added, and this bridge project, because it is located at Putney’s main downtown intersection, is “very hard.”

“No matter what we do here, it’s going to be painful and it’s going to be difficult,” Fitch said.

Typically, she said, the AOT considers three options for bridge repairs: road closure, phased construction with alternate lane closures, and building a temporary bridge alongside the one being replaced.

Option three is “almost impossible” because “it’s a very tight location,” Fitch said.

Option two is not impossible, but Fitch said it takes longer, costs more money, and results in a bridge deck that must be jointed because they can only build one half of the surface at a time.

Fitch said the AOT almost always recommends road closure because it allows the contractors the time and space to finish the job quickly and with less expense.

“We can get in and out as fast as possible,” Fitch said, noting the estimated maximum closure time for the Sacketts Brook bridge replacement is 10 days.

It could even be shorter, she said, after AOT Design Project Manager Rob Young analyzes the plans.

Additional time may be saved through the AOT’s Accelerated Bridge Program. Fitch explained that the agency offers contractors a five-percent bonus if they can reduce road closure by one day.

In the four years since the accelerated program was founded, the AOT has had a 100-percent success rate with getting bridges open early, Fitch said. “The contractors get the full incentive,” she added.

Another incentive goes to the town. Fitch told attendees that towns experiencing a bypass due to road or bridge closure will get a grant from the AOT, and the town can use it “for whatever they want,” she noted. Some towns use it to enforce the traffic bypass; others use it to maintain the bypass route or pay for barricades.

Fitch and Young described different conditions of the road closure, including how many hours per day the contractors can work, whether to keep or suspend noise ordinances during construction, and where the bypass will go when the bridge is closed.

These are considerations for the town to decide, Fitch said, and while the AOT will work with the community to figure out what is best, they do not dictate the result. As the process continues toward construction, a public outreach coordinator will work to keep townspeople informed.

The AOT officials told Selectboard members if they adamantly opposed the bridge closure, they could write a letter to the agency. Then, the AOT would contract for alternate lane phased construction. But, if the AOT does not hear from the town, then they will move forward with plans to close the bridge.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #349 (Wednesday, March 23, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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