New bridge in Bristol

BRISTOL — After two decades on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s to-do list, VTrans officials are making serious moves to get the Route 116 “Stoplight Bridge” replacement project in Bristol off the ground.

Dealing with a wide range of obstacles over many years, the crew at VTrans finally has a concrete plan to remedy the temporary bridge that’s been in place for 11 years. VTrans engineer Martha Evans-Mongeon, who has been managing this project since 2003, told the Bristol selectboard last week that a new span could be in place by 2014.

How long has this project been in the works?

“The earliest information I’ve looked at dates back to 1982,” Evans-Mongeon said in an interview Friday.

The reasons behind this long timeline are many and varied.

“Changing policies for highway construction played a big role in how long it has taken to get this project out the door,” Evans-Mongeon said.

When the project began in the early 1980s, realigning highways to make them straighter was a frequent practice. But, as the project began, engineers ran into a shift in both ideology and methodology. Environmental preservation took priority and realignment became taboo.

“We rarely realign highways any longer because of environmental impact, protecting wetlands and protecting flood lands,” Evans-Mongeon said.

Bristol’s rich biological and geographic diversity present the construction manager with many challenges.

“Some of the issues that we’re dealing with in Bristol are that it’s in a wetland and a floodplain with a challenging alignment. The topography surrounding the project is also challenging,” she said.

“Another issue that came into play was preserving our steel truss bridges … which ones needed preserved, which ones needed replaced,” Evans-Mongeon added. “We came to an agreement with the State Historic Preservation (staff), and luckily the one in Bristol is to be removed.”

What this means is that VTrans can make final preparations to begin construction.

“Our plan right now is to have the project ready to be bid on in the summer of 2013,” Evans-Mongeon said.

The engineer presented plans for the project to Bristol’s selectboard on Monday, March 14.

The current steel truss bridge is 100-feet in length and limited to one lane of traffic, which is controlled by a stop light at either end. A new 300-foot-long bridge will replace both the existing bridge over the New Haven River and a culvert over an unnamed brook just to the south, Evans-Mongeon explained. The new bridge will be 32 feet wide with five-foot shoulders and two 11-foot lanes. It will be located a bit upstream from the current bridge and will be between 17 and 19 feet higher in elevation on both ends than the current bridge.

Since the bridge is part of Route 116, it will be entirely government funded. Eighty percent of the projected $7.3 million price tag will be funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the other 20 percent will come from VTrans.

While the bridge is under construction, a temporary bridge and detour will be built. This new temporary bridge will pass through the Sycamore Park parking area, just downstream from the existing bridge.

The project manager hopes to get the gears turning on this project by the summer of 2013.

“If we begin in the summer of 2013,” she said, “then we would be complete in the fall of 2014.”

Reporter Andrew Stein can be reached at andrews@addisonindependent.com

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