by Charlie Wilson,
Well, Liza stepped out of the house, so as promised I’m frantically composing my column on the state of Taftsville’s bridges before she gets back and can pull the plug on my computer. I don’t know why she’s so convinced I’m turning into a troll. I like bridges. Lots of people like bridges.
Heck, today I had someone else approach me and say how much they’d enjoyed the articles about bridges. That’s two, count ‘em, two fans of my bridge articles I’ve run into in the last week. Who knows how many more there are out there. It could be several, I figure. This one’s for all of you.
First the Happy Valley Road bridge. As I reported earlier, the bridge itself is in fine shape; it’s the north abutment (which is the hamlet, or Route 4 side of the bridge) that is in serious danger of sliding into the brook and damming up the water.
The dry stone wall has failed in its duty as a retaining wall, and the entire north bank is migrating inexorably towards the brook; the movement is evidenced in the gap between stones that has appeared on the side of the wall, and in the drop in elevation up top; the northeast bank is beginning to resemble a sinkhole, and the road has dropped several inches below the level of the bridge surface.
I spoke with the engineer on site as he discussed his stabilization plans with a parade of construction firms seeking to bid on the job. He was charged with finding a way to halt the movement of the wall and riverbank until a new retaining wall could be built this coming summer.
His solution was an ingenious one. He has designed a wooden crib that will span the brook beneath the bridge and above the water. The crib will use the undamaged south retaining wall as an anchor, or base. In the event of flood waters, the crib’s wood design will allow it to release downstream, and not become a dam blocking debris surging down the brook. This should keep the bridge open to traffic through the winter. When the retaining wall is replaced in the summer, there will be no choice but to close the bridge.
It should not last as long as the last time the bridge was closed for repairs, and maybe we’ll be lucky and get a temporary pedestrian bridge installed like we did then.
The Taftsville Covered Bridge looks like it is slowly being abducted by aliens. Last I checked three different crews are working on dismantling it. One crew constructed a coffer dam, so others could work down at the base of the south abutment, where new footings will be placed to arrest the sinking that has been occurring to that wall.
A second crew has been dismantling the bridge board by board, numbering each piece of the bridge before it’s moved to the town garage for storage over the winter.
A third crew from Maine has been working on removing the roof of the bridge; the metal will not be saved, but the rafters and roof decking will be marked and saved. When they are done the entire span from the center pier to the south bank will have evaporated for a time, leaving only the two laminated wooden arches, which will be stabilized so as to survive the winter.
What are the chances of some pranksters painting them golden, do you suppose? If it happens, you’ll read about it here first.
This article first appeared in the December 8th edition of the Vermont Standard.