TOWNSHEND -- Vermont's longest wooden bridge will be saved.
More than five months after prohibiting pedestrians from using Scott Bridge due to safety concerns, state officials are planning to stabilize and repair the span.
The scope of the work is not yet clear. But the move is being hailed by local officials who had worried that the bridge might fall into further disrepair.
"The Scott Bridge is obviously a major historic asset," said state Rep. Richard Marek, a Newfane Democrat who represents Townshend. "It's part of the heritage of the area, and we can't afford to lose it."
The 277-foot, state-owned bridge over the West River has long been limited to pedestrian traffic. But the entrance off Route 30 now is blocked by wire fencing and a "no trespassing" sign that includes this warning: "Bridge unsafe."
That was the decision the Vermont Agency of Transportation made in February, when the span was shut. The abrupt announcement left some officials flustered.
"I could see that it needed work," said Hedy Harris, Townshend Selectboard chairwoman. "But it didn't seem like it was in imminent danger of falling in."
Harris added that the bridge, which dates to 1870, remained important even though it offered no vehicular access. For example, "we had a bunch of kids on the other side who were getting dropped off there and walking across to catch the school bus," she said.
But Matt Mann, a senior planner with
"Right now, it can basically support its own weight" and not much else, Mann said.
It appears that the state will take steps soon to rectify that.
While a VTrans official supervising the project could not be reached, Mann and Townshend officials said they've been notified that the span later this year will undergo initial stabilization work.
"VTrans did say that's something they would do before the snow flies," Mann said.
Then, renovations are expected to ensure that pedestrians can use the bridge safely.
"We hope it will happen (next year)," Mann said. "It's just a matter of finding the funding."
Money may be a factor, though. While Marek said he has not yet reviewed a recent study of the bridge's condition, he believes repairs may require a mix of state and federal cash.
"This could well turn into a multimillion-dollar project, and state highway funds are quite limited," Marek said.
He added that, during the next budget-planning process, "the goal is going to be to keep it a high priority."
Harris said the project is important for Townshend: Covered bridges are tourist attractions, and she also noted Scott Bridge continues to be a destination point for recreation.
"Kids have been swinging off a rope and swimming there for a long time," Harris said. "Kayaks and canoes come through all the time. People fish under that bridge."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.