NEWFANE -- The jury is still out on how best to address the badly deteriorated, 106-year-old Arch Bridge in Williamsville.
But at a recent meeting in Newfane, there was consensus among a small group of officials and residents: The bridge should be replaced, not rehabilitated; it should remain one lane, and not expand to two; and the turning radius should increase on the Dover Road/Grimes Hill Road side.
An official with the state Agency of Transportation, which will pay for most of the project, promised to return by year's end with more detailed plans. However, VTrans engineer Chris Williams also warned that the project is not imminent.
Even after environmental permitting is completed sometime next year, "it's two to five years from that point to where it's going to be built," Williams said.
Arch Bridge carries Depot Road over the Rock River, and local officials say it also serves as a vital detour link when Route 30 is closed for emergencies.
But the bridge's overall condition is rated as "poor." Built in 1908, with last major rehabilitation having happened 50 years ago, the bridge features "severe deterioration and delamination throughout," Williams said at the start of his presentation Wednesday night at Newfane's town office.
Pointing to a photograph showing the base of an abutment, Williams said, "I think there are some structural foundation problems under here."
The span's condition is bad enough that VTrans, which normally inspects bridges every two years, is checking Arch Bridge on a yearly basis.
Arch Bridge is town-owned, but the state can choose to address such structures based on need and other considerations. A VTrans official has labeled the Arch Bridge a "substantial high priority," and state officials have begun the process of preparing for a repair or replacement of the structure.
On Wednesday, Williams said many details have not yet been worked out. Broadly, the two options are rehabilitating the Arch Bridge or replacing it entirely.
With rehabilitation, "the idea would be, use as much of that existing bridge as possible," Williams said. But he added that, given the bridge's poor condition, "what that means is, there's not really going to be much left of it."
A slide Williams used for his presentation summed up the rehabilitation option this way: It is "very difficult, and we have not yet determined if this can be done and/or if it is ‘feasible and prudent.'"
Rehabilitation could present a major benefit for the town's coffers, though: If Newfane would sign a historic-preservation agreement with the state, Williams said, the town's share of the rehab project's cost could be zero.
"It's a pretty good deal," he said.
Alternatively, VTrans may opt to tear out the Arch Bridge and build a new span. If that happens, the new bridge "must be a fully-functioning concrete arch with the same scale and proportions" as the existing structure, the agency says.
"We'd be putting it right back in the same spot. We can't see moving the bridge," Williams said. "It wouldn't fit anywhere else. There would be tons of right-of-way issues."
The town's share of a replacement project's costs would be 10 percent or 5 percent, depending on the method used to maintain traffic. If the town agrees to allow full closure of the bridge and no installation of a temporary span during construction, "your local share drops by half," Williams said.
He added that, in the case of the Arch Bridge, "the only reasonable option, I think, would be to close this bridge while we're building a new one."
VTrans says such an arrangement, while creating greater short-term inconvenience for drivers, saves money and makes a project both quicker and safer. Also, Williams noted that the Arch Bridge's layout does not lend itself to phased construction (allowing a lane to remain open) or for construction of a temporary span.
Closure would occur sometime between June 1 and Sept. 1 in the year of construction, Williams said, and there will be flexibility to allow for local input on that schedule.
A more-detailed look at VTrans' Arch Bridge proposal will be available toward the end of the year, when Williams comes back to Newfane with a "scoping report" on the project. Environmental permitting could take about six months in 2015, Williams said, with actual design work extending two to five years after that.
That schedule won't please many in Newfane, where residents and officials have been lobbying for faster action on the Arch Bridge. If the bridge fails before the VTrans project commences, "who's responsible for the detour then?" asked resident Deborah Luskin, who also serves as town moderator.
While he could make no guarantees, Williams indicated that the Arch Bridge does not show signs of impending failure. With bridges, he said, "we don't often see big, catastrophic changes. We see gradual ones."
Williams also took input on the town's preferences for improvements at the Arch Bridge site. There was general agreement on several issues:
-- Replacement seemed like the only logical option.
"I would like to see it brand-new," said Todd Lawley, who works as the town's road foreman while also serving on the Selectboard. Lawley cited the amount of deterioration at the current span -- particularly deterioration related to road salt.
South Newfane resident Charles "Bud" Bergmann, an architect, agreed.
"It seems to me, from what I'm seeing, that this is not appropriate for a rehab," Bergmann said.
-- Several attendees said a new bridge, like the current bridge, should have only one lane.
Selectboard Chairman Gary Katz noted that, currently, drivers entering the bridge have to slow down or stop to ensure that no one is crossing. And that, he said, is not a bad thing.
"Right now, approaching the bridge from the Grimes Hill Road, Dover Road side, people have to make a sharp left turn or sharp right turn to get onto the bridge. Creating a two-way traffic bridge over there seems to me almost an invitation for increasing the risk of accidents from people making the turns onto the bridge," Katz said.
"From a safety standpoint, it seems to me that we're better off with a one-lane bridge," he added.
-- However, some also say drivers on the Dover Road/Grimes Hill Road side need more room to turn onto the bridge. Lawley also noted that it is nearly impossible for plow-truck drivers to safely turn right off the bridge onto Grimes Hill.
Expending the turning radius, officials said, would solve those problems without having to institute two-way traffic on a new Arch Bridge.
-- Officials also discussed pedestrian access. There was talk of what Williams called a "shared shoulder" for pedestrians and bikes, but there seemed to be consensus that a raised sidewalk was not necessary given the lack of such a sidewalk on either side of the bridge.
Katz said he was not in favor of installing a "pedestrian walkway that goes from nowhere to nowhere."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.