BELLOWS FALLS — Rehabilitating the Route 121 Bridge in the neighboring town of Westminster is “back to square one,” according to Rockingham Town Manager Scott Pickup, but that contention is disputed by the state’s project manager.
Pickup told the Rockingham Select Board on Tuesday evening that the project’s delay and “a full redesign” might mean that the rebuilt bridge could be widened to accommodate a bike and pedestrian lane on the bridge, which is quite narrow.
Rockingham had been lobbying for another lane to make way for bicyclists and pedestrians, but since the bridge is in Westminster and that town is footing the local share of the estimated $8 million project, Rockingham is in the back seat, even though the bridge closure will have a big effect on the villages of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River. Federal and state highway money is paying for all but a small fraction of the project.
Westminster’s interim town manager, Alison Bigwood, said her board would be discussing the bridge project next week at the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday.
‘Not back to square one’
Both the state and the construction company that had originally won the contract to rebuild the bridge wanted to cancel the contract, and as a result, the project will be delayed further, according to a memo from Agency of Transportation project manager J.B. McCarthy. McCarthy on Wednesday, via an email, said the bridge design was not back to “square one,” and that a wider bridge was not in the works.
“The project is not back to square one. We will not be widening the bridge to accommodate a bike lane. This was explained to the towns on Aug. 23,” he wrote. “We are simply re-advertising the project to include new structural steel and not just replacing the deck.”
McCarthy said that since the project was being canceled, it needed Federal Highway Administration approval, and that the state’s chief engineer had spoken to Vermont’s Federal Highway Administration office.
“This request needs approval from the FHWA Office in Washington, D.C. That process is underway,” he added.
Renaud Brothers Inc. of Vernon was the successful bidder on the original $4.1 million project, but the Renaud crew, as it was preparing for the original two-month project in June, discovered the structural steel was in much worse shape than originally thought.
The bridge originally was supposed to be closed for two months, July and August, for the repair job, with the primary detour set up for Back Westminster Road. The state says, despite its deteriorated state, the bridge is still safe and new weight limits are not needed.
McCarthy, in his memo to Westminster and Rockingham, noted that the estimated timeframe of 12 to 15 months for the delivery of the new steel needed for the bridge pushed the project to 2024 at least.