GUILFORD -- Engineers are looking at five possible routes to bypass the Green River Covered Bridge.
But they also are examining ways to reinforce the historic span, which requires extensive rehabilitation and has a load limit of just four tons.
There are no cost estimates or schedules yet, but engineers with Manchester, N.H.-based Hoyle, Tanner & Associates expect to have more details by the end of September. In the meantime, they are gathering public input.
"We're not coming to you tonight with any solutions nothing's been set in stone," Sean James, the firm's vice president and project manager, told a crowd gathered Monday evening at Broad Brook Grange in Guilford.
The Grange recently has hosted several discussions related to the town-owned covered bridge, mostly due to the fact that the span currently is closed to all traffic -- both vehicle and pedestrian -- to allow for repairs to a wing wall and abutment.
The closure has left residents on the western side of the bridge isolated, forcing them to follow a lengthy detour that extends into Massachusetts. Emergency responders also have had to make contingency plans.
And with the wing-wall project now extended into October, student transportation also has been a concern. With school starting this week, Guilford officials briefly had considered allowing use of a town-owned minibus to carry a handful of students to the eastern side of the river each day.
"But there ended up being insurance issues with liability," Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said.
On Monday, officials said parents affected by the bridge closure had made their own arrangements and likely would not require any special school- or town-sponsored transportation.
But the current bridge project is not what Hoyle, Tanner & Associates was hired to study. Instead, the Selectboard retained the company to consider longer-term options for crossing the Green River.
The concern is that, even after this year's wing-wall and abutment work is done, a larger renovation project looms -- possibly in summer 2015. And even that work may not restore the bridge to its former 8-ton weight limit.
While there has been talk of making the covered bridge an exclusively pedestrian crossing, James made clear that his company is examining options that could make the bridge a much more practical crossing -- one that is able to accommodate normal traffic as well as heavier emergency and delivery vehicles.
"What the town has asked us to look at is (a load capacity of) 12 tons or higher. Twelve gets you a fire truck across," James said.
But that kind of capacity would require either extensive structural work or installation of new supports such as steel beams. If there is hope of retaining the bridge's historic status, the Vermont Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Committee may not look kindly on the latter option.
"They've generally not been in favor of adding steel beams to covered bridges," James said.
If the Green River Covered Bridge is not upgraded, it may be bypassed. This week, James briefly outlined five bypass options -- two upstream of the covered bridge, and the other three to the south.
"We're really looking within a half-mile radius of the bridge," James said. "You start getting further north and south, it starts to make less and less sense."
The northernmost proposed crossing, dubbed option A, utilizes an existing concrete bridge built in 1929. That would require construction of a new road, but James said there is a major advantage to using an existing bridge.
"You don't have to permit a new crossing," James said. "You don't have to build a new bridge."
Another option north of the covered bridge would involve building a new, longer bridge. James said there are multiple problems at that site including a "steep, steep slope" and utility lines.
Even at this early stage in the study, James said, the site is "not really, perhaps, a good solution."
James also found areas of concern in the three proposed river crossings south of the covered bridge. One of those options impacts wetlands, so permitting "could be a potential issue," he said. Another involves the use of preserved land.
Those are just a few of Hoyle, Tanner & Associates' considerations when reviewing the town's options. Also included in the study are flood-plain issues; impacts on historic/archeological resources; the length of construction schedules; and estimated costs.
"We're in the beginning stages of looking at some alternatives," James said, adding that, "our next step is to go back (and) do some more research and review."
He also cautioned that the engineering firm is not planning to recommend an alternative to the town. Rather, he said, the study simply will provide information.
"The ultimate decision on what you do is a local decision," James said. "Our task is to give some answers to the Selectboard."
Cost will be a factor in any decision. Town officials say there is state money available for covered-bridge preservation, but there likely is no such assistance available for construction of a new span across the Green River.
Some at Monday's meeting questioned the logic of investing heavily in the covered bridge, a point also raised by Clark.
"If we spend a million dollars on that bridge, 10 years from now, we'll probably have to put another million dollars in it," he said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.