Thursday July 25, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Officials say Route 30 likely will not be shut for more than a day at a time during the Interstate 91 bridge project in Brattleboro, though they cannot completely rule out longer closures.

Traffic disruption was one of the primary topics at a Tuesday public meeting where representatives of the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the new I-91 bridge design/construction team answered questions about the $60 million project.

In spite of the fact that crews will be demolishing and building a massive highway bridge overhead, project administrators are pledging that neither Route 30 nor Upper Dummerston Road -- where a smaller I-91 bridge is being replaced as part of the same contract -- will be affected much by the work.

"We are striving to limit the restrictions as much as possible. We continue to use the words, ‘short duration,'" said Caleb Linn of PCL Civil Constructors Inc., which is building the new bridges. "And we do not envision multiple-day closures at this point."

The effort to replace the aging I-91 bridge over the West River and Route 30 -- two spans that have been deemed structurally deficient and outdated -- is scheduled to begin later this year and will extend into 2016.

VTrans, after consultation with a local aesthetic committee, selected PCL and bridge designer FIGG Bridge Engineers to handle the project. All told, four interstate spans -- two over Route 30 and two over Upper Dummerston Road -- will be replaced with two new structures.


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One-way traffic is expected to begin on I-91 later this year and will continue throughout the project.

Locally, however, there is more concern about impacts on Route 30 and Upper Dummerston Road underneath the interstate bridges. For those areas, project administrators have said they expect "alternating one-way flow under flagger control or brief full closures during activities that require construction overhead."

Linn on Tuesday elaborated on what the companies mean by "brief" closures. In most or even all cases, he said, that may mean hours -- not days.

Also, crews will attempt to limit traffic restrictions on Route 30 to night or off-peak hours.

"We're allowed, by contract, up to seven-day closures. And the goal of the design/build team, with (VTrans), has been to limit that as much as possible," Linn said.

He said local feedback ensured that the project's design and construction team knew that free-flowing traffic on Route 30 was a priority.

"We've tried to come in and listen to the community and understand what the hot buttons are. And we've heard from day one that the public is very concerned about closure durations," Linn said.

"So that's been something that we keyed in on early, and we're trying to design our construction means and methods to accommodate that. We'll do everything in our power to make that happen."

However, Linn could offer no guarantees that unforeseen events won't necessitate slightly longer closures to ensure public safety underneath the new highway bridge.

"If there's a situation where we just say, ‘We've tried everything we can and unfortunately we have a two-day closure,' we'll sit down with the community and explain why," Linn said. "And I will be the first one to do it, because I'm the one giving my word that this is what the team is striving for."

Traffic restrictions aren't the only concern, however. Some worry that, when Route 30 is shut even for a short period, most or all of that traffic will funnel onto Upper Dummerston Road.

"Upper Dummerston Road is going to take a pounding. It's already taking a pounding," said Christopher Chapman, who lives on that road and attended Tuesday's project meeting at Brattleboro Union High School.

"My concern is, the road already needs repairs," Chapman said. "There are cracks and potholes. I'd love to see the state step in and work on the road, either before or after."

Todd Sumner, VTrans project manager, said the state will create a signed detour in an attempt to keep trucks and other "big traffic" off Upper Dummerston Road when Route 30 is closed.

He acknowledged, however, that local drivers likely will use the road regardless.

"We would never (detour) sign the Upper Dummerston Road," Sumner said. "That's just something that people who live in the area would know about, and they would use it."

Sumner recommended that the towns of Brattleboro and Dummerston coordinate to ask local law enforcement to watch the area during Route 30 closures.

He believes such measures, along with the state's signed detour, will prevent any long-term, heavy traffic on Upper Dummerston Road.

"It really shouldn't have any effects on the quality of that road," Sumner said.

Project administrators pledge to make a comprehensive effort to advise the public about traffic conditions as well as any construction impacts on the West River and West River Trail.

"We're going to do everything we can to get the word out well in advance," said Linda Figg of FIGG Bridge Engineers.

That includes regular updates on a soon-to-be-launched website, www.I91BrattleboroBridge.com. Also, there will be updates on VTrans' Facebook page and on YouTube as well as on the 511vt.com website.

Those who want weekly project updates also can contact Cindy Cook at ccook@adamantaccord.com or at 802-223-1330.

Additionally, project administrators plan weekly "trail talks" once construction gets under way. That will entail a meeting each Saturday on the West River Trail so that residents can see construction firsthand.

"We'll walk down, and we'll just have a trail talk and discuss the current stage of the project, answer questions," Linn said. "It's all about getting the community informed about the project."

There also will be an attempt to reach out to local students by providing schools with a customized "bridge box" relating math and science lessons to I-91 bridge construction.

"This will be a lot of fun, and we hope to engage the students in the discovery of this wonderful bridge right in their neighborhood," Figg said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.