BRATTLEBORO -- State officials heard more than a few jeers this summer after unveiling a plain concrete design proposal for a new Interstate 91 bridge over Route 30.
So they’re now pledging to incorporate residents’ aesthetic concerns into planning and bidding for bridge replacement, likely with help from the Windham Regional Commission.
But there’s not much time to set up that process, as the state will advertise for design/construction bids in early September.
"We definitely want the suggestions," said Todd Sumner, who is managing the project for Vermont Agency of Transportation. "We definitely want the input."
Officials expect a multiyear effort to replace the two structurally deficient spans crossing the West River and Route 30. Costs could reach $50 million, and the job will necessitate periodic closures of heavily traveled Route 30.
However, VTrans administrators have said they face a September deadline to lock in or possibly lose federal funding for the project. So they’re working on an expedited schedule, and a private "design/build" team will handle both design and construction of the new bridge.
But the state also is setting up guidelines for that team to follow, and officials in June proposed replacing the arched steel bridge with a simple concrete structure.
That riled up some residents during a public meeting and in the weeks afterward.
It also spurred a response
That could happen, Campany suggested, through public meetings with project contractors.
"We specifically want applicants to include a public engagement and charrette process in their proposals, as well as a web-based design review and public input strategy," he wrote.
Some of those who have objected to the concrete design have noted that the steel I-91 bridge is a well-known, often-photographed gateway to the scenic Route 30 corridor.
Campany’s letter dubs the bridge a "southern Vermont icon," and he urges careful deliberation in choosing what will replace it.
"This region has a wealth of creative people who would like the opportunity to contribute their vision to the eventual design of the bridge," Campany wrote. "We urge you to provide them with that opportunity, and to require applicants to describe how they will incorporate public participation in the design of this important structure."
State officials have argued that the concrete design offers advantages including low-impact construction, 100-year durability and less long-term maintenance than a steel bridge requires.
But in an interview Tuesday, Campany said VTrans has been working with the commission regarding the local design concerns.
"I’m really glad they’re taking it seriously," Campany said. "We have been in touch by phone."
Sumner said discussions have included creation of an "aesthetics-evaluation committee" formed through Windham Regional.
"The details of that haven’t been ironed out yet," he said.
There is not much time to set that up. Sumner said September’s bid advertisements must be "explicit and very clear" about how bridge-design proposals will be evaluated aesthetically.
"We want to make sure everybody has the same information and that it’s a level playing field," Sumner said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.