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Vermont Bridge Being Rebuilt After Irene

Mon November 05, 2012 - Northeast Edition

The Bartonsville covered bridge over the Williams River was made famous in an online video showing it swept downstream during Tropical Storm Irene.
The Bartonsville covered bridge over the Williams River was made famous in an online video showing it swept downstream during Tropical Storm Irene.

BARTONSVILLE, Vt. (AP) The Bartonsville covered bridge over the Williams River, made famous in an online video showing it swept downstream during Tropical Storm Irene, came to symbolize the destruction Vermont suffered during the storm’s brutal passage through the state last August.

Now, the covered bridge is being rebuilt, one beam at a time. Huge pieces of lumber that were shipped in from across the country to be assembled with modern power tools, but the design and techniques would be recognizable to the engineers who built the span in 1870.

There are other changes, too: The old bridge was 152 ft. (46 m) long, the new one 168 ft. (51 m). The 1870 bridge was made with timber cut from local forests. The wood in the new bridge comes from the Pacific Northwest.

And the floor of the new bridge will be made from laminated lumber designed for strength and durability that was unavailable 140 years ago.

Construction workers began assembling the trusses in late September. One side was flipped upright and the other side built. The roof followed next.

Once the walls and roof are complete, the temporary bridge in the Bartonsville neighborhood in the town of Rockingham will be removed and the new covered bridge moved into place so work crews can build the road surface. The bridge is expected to open to traffic early next year.

For residents, preservation of a classic Vermont scene was paramount. Within hours of the destruction of the old bridge, townspeople were talking about the need to build a new covered bridge and refusing to settle for a modern span of concrete and steel, said Susan Hammond, the Bartonsville native who shot the video. In less than a month, the town had retained a design firm.

“Covered bridges are an iconic image of Vermont that goes right along with our historic downtowns and our beautiful landscape and our working landscape,” said Sue Minter, the Vermont official charged with overseeing the rebuilding of the state.

She said she has heard about the video of the lost bridge from people from across the country. “The loss of that really hit heartstrings.”

The estimated total $2.6 million cost for the new bridge and the temporary span is being paid with the insurance payout from the old bridge, federal funds and 5 percent match from the state and the town of Rockingham. It was almost the same price as a modern bridge, said Hammond, who has worked on the bridge project.

Plans call for the crossing to be closed to traffic for 45 days while the covered bridge is finished, said Chad Contaldi, the project manager of Cold River Bridges, the Walpole, N.H., company constructing the new bridge.

Phillip Pierce, an engineer of the firm that designed the new bridge, said he’d worked on more than 100 of the approximately 880 covered bridges now in the United States, but the Bartonsville bridge is special.

“I’ve never designed one truly believing that it will stand a lot longer than a hundred years, and I believe it will,” he said.

The video showing the bridge’s collapse can be seen here.

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