GUILFORD — Residents are being asked to weigh in on a bridge replacement project that would involve closing the Route 5 bridge in the Village of Algiers for a few weeks.
On May 3, the Vermont Agency of Transportation will hold a public information meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Guilford Community Church, 38 Church Drive, to discuss the project.
The single span concrete bridge over Broad Brook was built in 1925 and is owned and maintained by the state of Vermont. In 2013, engineers determined that the most cost effective and viable approach to address deterioration of the aging bridge would be to replace it.
VTrans will use accelerated bridge construction methods to minimize disruption to travelers. The bridge will be closed for a four-week period in the summer of 2017. While there are local roads motorists can use to get around the bridge, traffic will be detoured to I-91 which runs parallel to Route 5.
Sheila Morse, the chairwoman of the Select Board, urged all residents to attend the meeting to learn more about the project, how it will affect emergency response and to express their opinions.
"Four weeks is doable," she said. "It will certainly disrupt local traffic, but at least it's not in the school year. In the end, the results will be much better than what we have now."
Because the state owns the bridge, said Morse, the town is not responsible for any portion of the replacement costs.
The new bridge will look similar to the existing bridge but will be 15 feet wider. It will have wider travel lanes, a sidewalk and four foot shoulders. According to a scoping study released in October 2013, the current bridge will be replaced with a 90-foot superstructure constructed off-site. A temporary-bridge option would cost the state $2.4 million, while closure will only cost $2 million.
During the May 3 meeting, the project team will provide details on the project's final design, identify measures that will be taken to mitigate community impacts and respond to questions and concerns.
At a meeting in 2013, residents expressed skepticism about the accelerated construction method. They were especially concerned that a bridge closure would negatively affect emergency response.
Guilford's all-volunteer fire department is located at 108 Guilford Center Road, just north of the bridge, and many of Guilford's emergency responders live south of the bridge. In addition, the department responds to many calls at the I-91 Welcome Center and calls on the highway itself, both of which are accessed south of the bridge.
Jared Bristol, chief of the Guilford Fire Department, said the town has been told the Agency of Transportation plans to modify the access point from Route 5 to Interstate 91 to allow southbound emergency responders, such as Rescue Inc. or Mutual Aid fire departments, to access Route 5, when in the past they would just cross the bridge in the Village of Algiers.
Bristol said that while nothing has been set in stone, neighboring fire departments are aware they may need to help the Guilford Fire Department during the bridge's four-week closure.
"However, if something happens to the north side of the bridge, 16 of the 36 members live on the south side, and those 16 are often the first to arrive at the station," said Bristol. He said that he has asked if a pedestrian bridge is possible for firefighters and he will raise that issue again at the May 3 meeting. "Timing is of the essence when the pager goes off."
According to a recent state count, the average daily traffic over the bridge is 2,400 vehicles including 250 trucks. But the bridge, which crosses Broad Brook, is considered too narrow. And it is rated as "structurally deficient," with engineers particularly concerned about the substructure.
The official VTrans detour would push Route 5 traffic onto Interstate 91 between Exit 1 in Brattleboro and Exit 28 in Bernardston, Mass. For through traffic, the distance is the same on both roads. But for local drivers with destinations on the other side of the closed bridge, the inconvenience is greater.
There also is an unofficial "local bypass" utilizing Broad Brook Road and Route 142 in Vernon. That wouldn't be signed as a detour, but VTrans officials acknowledge that some drivers will travel that way. It adds a little less than two miles to the travel distance.
For more information, visit www.us5bridgeguilford.vtransprojects.vermont.gov.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.