GUILFORD -- Town officials on Tuesday cut the weight limit for Green River Covered Bridge in half, warning that only passenger cars and light trucks should use the historic structure due to new structural findings.
Also, the board voted to postpone a rehabilitation project that had been scheduled for this year. Before undertaking that job, officials will seek more grant money to replace the bridge's deck -- an element that was not originally part of the project.
There are financial considerations behind that move, but Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark declared that "public safety is the big issue here."
The bridge dates to 1870 and is a town lattice truss design. The 104-foot span carries Jacksonville Stage Road over the Green River and is set amid a picturesque mixture of historic properties and a small waterfall.
But there has been talk for years about the need to rehabilitate the bridge. The town has more than $300,000 in state money for that project, which was to include replacing the roof, straightening the structure, stabilizing abutments and improving drainage on both approaches.
"Before last week, the original plan was to put the (request for construction proposals) out in the really short term," said Matt Mann, a senior planner specializing in transportation issues at the Brattleboro-based Windham Regional Commission.
As the Vermont Agency of Transportation was conducting a final review of the project, however, there was new information on the condition of the deck and also an order to lower the load rating on the bridge.
The recommendation now is "you should replace the deck," Mann said, while noting that such work does not have to be done right away.
Guilford Selectboard scheduled a special meeting Tuesday morning for two issues -- imposing a new weight limit on the bridge and deciding whether to proceed with the rehabilitation project as originally planned and deal with the bridge's deck later, given a lack of funding for the deck work.
The load issue was resolved quickly: Dan Zumbruski, the town's road foreman and road commissioner, said he already had ordered and received signs warning of a new four-ton weight limit -- half the former load limit for the bridge. He expects to install those on Wednesday.
Green River Covered Bridge already was not suitable for large trucks. But the new weight limit rules out a variety of smaller trucks including fuel deliveries and possibly some delivery drivers, officials said.
Selectboard members say there is no significant change for Guilford firefighters, as the town already has emergency-service agreements in place with Halifax and neighboring Massachusetts towns.
"We of course want our own fire protection. But in the interest of safety, we have mutual aid for a reason, and nobody's at any greater risk," Town Administrator Katie Buckley said.
New weight limits, however, do not solve the bridge's structural problems. On Tuesday, Selectboard members said it makes sense to postpone this year's rehabilitation project so that they can apply for more funding and then incorporate a new deck into the rehab work next year.
The deck may cost an extra $100,000 or more, officials estimated.
Rather than undertaking a separate deck project at some point in the future, and also incurring more costs for planning and engineering, the idea is, "let's just get in there and do this once," Mann said.
"We are extremely hopeful that it will be funded," Buckley added.
That does not mean, however, that there will be no work at the Green River Covered Bridge this year. The Selectboard voted to proceed with a separate, smaller project to fix the bridge's wing walls, which are supports for abutments.
"We have the funding for (the wing walls), and we could move ahead with it this summer, and doing that might reveal or inform some aspects of the bridge," Buckley said.
For now, fixing Green River Covered Bridge is the town's priority. But there also are longer-term discussions about building a new, modern span nearby so that the old bridge would be limited to pedestrian traffic.
The model for that, Mann said, would be the preservation of Brattleboro's Creamery Bridge as a pedestrian-only walkway.
Such a project would cost millions of dollars. But Selectboard member Anne Rider said Guilford officials should get that ball rolling as a long-term way to preserve Green River Covered Bridge.
"It feels like the responsible thing to at least do our part to get started," Rider said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.