I-91 bridge project featured in 'trail talks'


BRATTLEBORO -- Crews have a lot to juggle with the $60 million bridge-replacement project on Interstate 91 in Brattleboro.

There is the traffic on the interstate and on busy Route 30 below, not to mention the West River and West River Trail. Plus, two nearby, smaller bridges over Upper Dummerston Road will be replaced.

But the project's lead designer and contractor say they're committed to keeping the public in the loop. And "trail talks" set to begin next Saturday, Dec. 14, are the latest way to do that.

The session, originating on the West River Trail near the Marina, is expected to be the first in a series of walk-and-talk meetings between project administrators and the public.

"It's another way to really give the public an update on what's going on," said Garrett Hoffman, design manager for FIGG Bridge Engineers.

The bridge project, commissioned by Vermont Agency of Transportation, began this fall and is expected to extend into 2016. Pennsylvania-based FIGG handled design work, while Colorado-based PCL Civil Contractors is in charge of construction.

Officials have said the two green-painted, steel spans that currently carry I-91 traffic over the river and Route 30 are structurally deficient and too narrow.

Plans for a new, wider concrete bridge were developed with extensive design input from the public. And representatives of FIGG and PCL have pledged to continue to seek local feedback.

Hence the "trail talks." The Dec. 14 session will include Hoffman and Caleb Linn, PCL's project manager; they will discuss the project and take questions.

Interested members of the public are asked to assemble at the trailhead at Brattleboro's Marina at 8 a.m., with the talk scheduled to begin at 8:15 a.m.

Appropriate clothing and footwear is advised, as the group will walk the West River Trail to the bridge.

"We'll walk right up to the project site, but we won't be on the project site, so they won't need hard hats," Hoffman said.

Traffic on I-91 has been reduced to a single lane in each direction over the southbound span, while demolition of the northbound span has begun.

"(Demolition) is going to be ongoing, and this will be a good chance to talk to the public about it," Hoffman said.

There also have been periodic traffic restrictions on Route 30 below the I-91 spans. Hoffman said upcoming work will require temporary closure of Route 30, though an exact schedule has not yet been set.

"We're going to have to close Route 30 for two days straight," he said. "We'll be able to discuss all that (at the trail talk)."

While demolition is the most obvious activity at the site, Hoffman said there also will be construction to talk about.

"Pretty soon, we're going to have a pier coming up out of the ground by Route 30," he said. "The items that we're building right now are important, but they're kind of in the ground, so it's hard to really see."

The second trail talk has not yet been scheduled, but Hoffman said it will happen sometime soon after the New Year.

Trail talks are not a novel model for public interaction, with Hoffman saying FIGG has convened such gatherings in other areas.

For example, there were "sidewalk talks" during replacement of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. That project was made necessary by the infamous collapse of the previous bridge in 2007.

"We were part of the team that built the new structure there," Hoffman said.

In Brattleboro, project administrators have been sending out weekly updates on the I-91 work. There also is a website, www.I91BrattleboroBridge.com, dedicated to the project.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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