GUILFORD -- Town officials and residents alike want to see Green River Covered Bridge's load capacity restored to 8 tons.
The question, though, is what kind of work -- and how much money -- it will take to reach that goal.
So Guilford Selectboard, two weeks after cutting the bridge's weight limit in half due to structural concerns, met in special session on Wednesday and authorized a "detailed analysis" that will help determine exactly what work is needed at the historic span.
"It means, let's get more information," Selectboard member Anne Rider said, adding that, "from that analysis, we make a plan."
For years, officials have been discussing rehabilitation plans for the 144-year-old bridge, which carries Jacksonville Stage Road over the Green River. Until recently, the plan was to proceed this year with a project that includes replacing the roof, straightening the structure, stabilizing abutments and improving drainage on both approaches.
The town has more than $300,000 in state money for that work.
But after a final review of the project by the state Agency of Transportation, officials said new structural findings necessitated the lower load rating and a recommendation to replace the deck. A new deck had not been part of the rehab plan.
Selectboard members met June 3 to authorize a 4 ton weight limit on the bridge and to postpone the rehabilitation project until next year. The idea is to seek more state funding so that a deck replacement can be incorporated into the project.
"The rehab project, as it is currently planned, doesn't do anything to add load capacity to the bridge," Town Administrator Katie Buckley said.
It remains unclear, though, whether simply adding a new deck will allow officials to raise the bridge's weight limit to 8 tons. A document submitted by Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, the town's engineer for the Green River project, says additional work may be required to strengthen the bridge.
Additionally, an engineer wrote that "replacement of the deck with a lighter deck and removal of the longitudinal distribution beams would also be evaluated."
Selectboard members on Wednesday committed to an analysis of those possibilities, though officials are not yet committed to pursuing the work that will be recommended by Hoyle, Tanner & Associates.
"If the results of the analysis are acceptable to the town, modifications would be required for the current plan sets and additional funding would be pursued," the engineering proposal says.
The weight issue is important, as the Selectboard's decision to lower the structure's load limit meant, for instance, that fuel deliveries must be routed around the covered bridge.
For some, the reduced weight limit also raises larger concerns about Green River Covered Bridge's long-term viability.
"It was 8 tons. Now it's 4 tons. The next is closure," said resident Shaun Murphy, who attended Wednesday's meeting.
"It's engineering," Murphy added. "It means that the bridge is in trouble more than it was last year."
Others, though, do not believe that closure is a real possibility.
"You're making a leap there," Rider told Murphy. "I think we've got to deal with what we've got in front of us."
For the Selectboard, that means trying to find the right project and adequate cash to rehabilitate the covered bridge. However, there also is increasing momentum for eventual construction of a new bridge that can handle modern traffic.
"Regardless of what we do to that (covered) bridge, it's not big enough," Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said. "It's a size issue."
The Selectboard did not vote on Wednesday to begin planning for a new Green River bridge or even for a temporary span. Such projects will take additional money and time.
But many like the idea of pulling vehicular traffic off the covered bridge, as that could be the best way to preserve the historic structure.
"As I look at it, the covered bridge is a real asset to Green River and Guilford -- not as a full-time transportation bridge," Murphy said. "But it could be put aside the way the Creamery Bridge was in Brattleboro."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.