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Williamsville covered bridge project close to completion

WILLIAMSVILLE—Apart from whatever inconvenience the closing of the Williamsville covered bridge for two months accrues to commuters and tourists traveling to and from South Newfane via the Dover Road, it’s not nearly as serious as what the contractors and state employees fear if hordes of locals want to watch (and who doesn’t?) the new bridge, now complete and resting on private property, being transported to where the old bridge once was.

Indeed, officials decline to disclose the estimated target date for the dramatic move. Law enforcement agencies will be on site to turn away the curious, said state resident engineer and project supervisor Fred Ross.

“I know Channel 3 wants to be there,” Ross said, adding that, nevertheless, the contractor, Alpine Construction of Schuylerville, N.Y., owns the site and indicating that Alpine has the final say.

There may yet be hope for gawkers, although subterfuge may still be necessary.

Ross described the incentive-decentive contract arrangement in force between the contractor and the state.

The contractual completion date is Aug. 30 — 56 days, starting from 12:01 a.m. on July 5.

“If the bridge is open at the right time or before, Alpine gets a $30,000 bonus, Ross said. “If they don’t get it done, there’s no bonus and they’re charged $200 an hour until they do. I think they’ll get it done on time or before.”

The new bridge took about a year to construct, Ross said, and the contractor will break down the old bridge.

The one-lane, 120-foot-long lattice truss bridge has spanned the Rock River between Williamsville and South Newfane since about 1850, according to John Zicconi, spokesman for the state Agency of Transportation.  Other accounts, including the Newfane town website, describes it as an 1870 structure.

The project did not receive federal stimulus funding, according to Ross, who said the bill for the project, about $1.6 million, is split 80 percent-20 percent between federal and state accounts. The bridge falls under the state’s Historic Covered Bridges Preservation Plan.

In March 2000, Newfane voters decided to keep the covered bridge at whatever cost; soon afterward state preservationists concluded that the old bridge was unsafe and concluded that the best solution was to build a new covered bridge to look just like the old one but built with stronger materials.

Roger Whitcomb, one of the new bridge’s designers, reports that the new bridge does indeed look just like the old bridge, with one or two modifications, such as an extended roof for water drip.

“Most of the wood is treated yellow pine and there could be some Eastern hemlock and spruce,” said Whitcomb, a former AOT project manager and engineer, and now a consultant with a technical services company in Waterbury. “The running planks on the driving surface are white oak. They’re called sacrificial planks because they’ll need to be replaced about every 12 years. The key is that all of it is built to the same dimensions as the old bridge.”

“The old bridge had been rebuilt several times, but much of it was just rotting away,” Ross said. “It’s really amazing how long it’s lasted when you think it was built for horse and buggy.”

The detour around the bridge on Parish Hill and Baker Brook Road is about two miles long and will be posted with signs, according to a press release from Zicconi, who also suggested that drivers should factor in time for the short detour.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #57 (Wednesday, July 7, 2010).

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