GUILFORD -- Town officials are considering construction of a temporary span that would pull traffic off the historic Green River Covered Bridge, though it is not yet clear when such a structure might be built.
Selectboard members say they remain committed to finding ways to strengthen the 144-year-old bridge.
But with a recent weight-limit reduction causing concerns about public safety and the bridge's long-term viability, board members on Monday voted to seek more information about a new span that would allow drivers -- and, more importantly, emergency vehicles -- to bypass the covered bridge.
"We definitely want to preserve that covered bridge," Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said. "But every year that goes by, a new bridge is going to be more costly. So now is the time."
A covered-bridge rehabilitation project had been set for this year, but state officials at the last minute recommended a deck replacement and a weight-limit reduction. Guilford officials have grant money for a bridge rehab, but replacing the deck was not part of that project.
The rehab project has been pushed back to 2015 as the town seeks more funding and more specifics on how to restore the covered bridge's load capacity to 8 tons.
In the meantime, a new, 4-ton limit remains in effect. The lower weight allowance has put the kibosh on fuel deliveries, and it also means Guilford Volunteer Fire Department can send only a smaller utility truck across the covered bridge, Chief Jared Bristol said.
For emergencies on the other side of the span, Bristol said his department has developed "alternate run cards" allowing for an enhanced response from other towns. Bristol said there have been recent conversations with firefighters in neighboring Halifax and in Leyden and Colrain, Mass.
"We've called and asked for assistance," Bristol said. "We're going to need more (help) and sooner than before, and they all said, ‘We understand.'"
Guilford's larger equipment still can respond to the other side of the bridge, but only via a detour that takes nearly 40 minutes and routes trucks into Massachusetts, Bristol said.
For that reason, Bristol was blunt in his assessment of the situation: "A temporary bridge is needed sooner rather than later," he told Selectboard members Monday evening.
Monday's discussion included questions about how soon a temporary bridge could be built downstream of the covered bridge, with the old span then reserved for pedestrian and bike traffic. Officials said preliminary work might be the most time-consuming part of installing a temporary bridge.
"The time is going to be (spent) doing the spot for the crossing, getting the rights of way, doing the layout of the road," Clark said.
There also is the question of cost, since the bridge and roads are town-owned. If building a temporary bridge is not considered an emergency remedy, officials said, then it may be classified as an elective project that would have to be funded by the town.
"From the information that we have at this point, it's all on our dime," Clark said.
Town Administrator Katie Buckley recommended hiring an engineer to develop more a more-specific temporary bridge proposal. But the Selectboard did not immediately pursue that, instead deciding to have Guilford resident Addison Minott, a retired engineer, serve as a point person in bridge discussions with the state.
"We want to do something, and we want and need the state's involvement," Clark said after the meeting.
Following a lengthy discussion, Selectboard member Anne Rider said the town's next course of action was "clear as mud." But she urged some movement on the issue.
"We need to start jumping through these hoops, whatever they are," Rider said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.