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Vermont's Quechee Gorge Bridge to Finally Begin Rehab

Thu August 03, 2023 - National Edition #17
Vermont Standard & Valley News

An engineer with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) told residents and concerned citizens of the Hartford area on July 27 that the overdue improvements to the Quechee Gorge Bridge will finally get started, including preparation and clean-up work from the recent floods, in mid- to late-August and continue through November.

The start of the $19.1 million rehabilitation of the historic bridge, built in 1911, is anticipated to create traffic delays and parking challenges, though, during the summer and fall for at least the next three years, reported the Valley News in nearby West Lebanon, N.H.

The upgrades will entail cleaning and painting the structural arches and frame of the three-span steel deck truss structure, replace deteriorated beams or joints, and widen the existing sidewalks from 3½-ft. to 6-ft.

VTrans Project Manager J.B. McCarthy presented the scope of the project at the July public meeting where he explained the delay on moving forward with the rehabilitation.

"We had plans ready to go in 2020, but then COVID happened, so we had to put it off for a few years," he said.

In addition, McCarthy reported that his office had asked for new bids in September 2022, but only received one.

Now, though, the agency has contracted with Gill Engineering, from Needham, Mass., to take on the job.

The Quechee Gorge Bridge is located on U.S. Highway 4, midway between Woodstock and White River Junction, Vt. Known for its spectacular views of the Quechee Gorge from its perch above the Ottauquechee River, the structure is 285-ft.-long, 41-ft. wide and 163-ft.-high.

The bridge carries two lanes of traffic — one in each direction — along with sidewalks on both sides. Its main span is a parabolic spandrel-braced Pratt truss, forming a span that is 188-ft.-long.

Bridge Repair Will Ramp Up in 2024

VTrans had hoped to shut down the construction in September each year, to allow for "leaf-peeping season," according to McCarthy, and the annual influx of fall tourism, but after consulting with contractors, the agency had to make the decision to expand the schedule through November.

For most of the project's duration, one lane of traffic and one sidewalk will be closed. Human flaggers will initially control a single lane of alternating traffic, but by the end of the 2023 construction season, temporary signals will be installed to manage traffic. McCarthy told the Standard that those barriers will be removed during the winter months when no work is taking place.

In 2024 and 2025, construction will run from April through November, he added. The work will then shift to repairing the bridge, replacing deteriorated components and building new sidewalks. Construction will take place on the southern side of the bridge in 2024 and switch to the northern side the following year.

The Vermont Standard in Woodstock reported that the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on the bridge will improve, and the sidewalks will be extended from the Quechee State Park Visitor Center to the parking lot.

The final three months of work on the Quechee Gorge Bridge, prior to its targeted completion on June 26, 2026, will include landscaping, final pavement laying and a last bridge inspection, McCarthy noted.

The bridge has seen restoration projects in the past, in 1972 and 1988, but he noted the structure had never really had this type of work done since it was built 112 years ago.

Business Owners Anxious About Bridge Project

For area business owners who rely on tourism for their livelihood, the restoration of the Quechee Gorge Bridge cannot come soon enough.

Many, though, are concerned about the anticipated traffic congestion from the bridge project as they continue to recover from July's brutal heavy rains and flooding.

Owners of retail shops and restaurants on U.S. 4 in Quechee said they saw a significant decline in patrons during the weeks that followed the July 10 flooding, which caused major damage across Vermont, including parts of the Upper Valley.

Businesses that did not encounter flooding problems of their own were still affected indirectly by a decline in visitors to the Quechee Gorge, which funnels tourists to the assortment of antique shops, gift stores and eateries located nearby.

"We saw our sales plummet for two weeks because people were saying [on social media] not to come," said Tina Tuckerman, owner of the Vermont Snack Shack on Quechee Gorge Village Drive.

Owners of businesses near the gorge also are worried about the timing of the construction, which is expected to create heavy traffic backup and parking difficulties during the fall foliage season.

Patricia Button, owner of the Snack Bar at Quechee Gorge along U.S. 4, said the gorge attracts an average of 20 to 25 buses per day from September through mid-October.

Her concern is that bus companies might decide to bypass the gorge over the next three years because of the inconvenience.

"And once you lose them, you can't get them back," said Button, who, like other business local business owners, are still recovering from the dip in sales due to indirect impacts from the flooding.

She told the Standard that she worries most about the effect of construction in 2025, when the work will be on the east side of the bridge — the same side of the highway as her business. But the open sidewalk will be on the opposite side of U.S. 4, and the nearest crosswalk to Button's parking lot will be the Quechee Gorge Visitor Center, farther east of the bridge.

She said the tourists will either have to backtrack to reach the overlook or the buses will need to find parking in the small lot on the western side of the bridge.

Business owners also were worried about the status of the Quechee Covered Bridge, which was closed after one of its embankments was washed away by the flood on the Ottauquechee River. The bridge, which connects Waterman Hill Road to Quechee Main Street, provides an alternate route to the lower village on the western side of the gorge.

With the closure of the covered bridge, vehicles must access Main Street at the intersection of U.S. 4, which requires some drivers to have to cross Quechee Gorge Bridge.

Hartford Public Works Director Bryan Gazda told those attending the July 27 meeting that the town is currently seeking bids to repair the Quechee Covered Bridge.

Gazda said the goal is to reopen the covered bridge by the end of August, though that will hinge on whether the town secures an available contractor.

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