WESTMINSTER — The Route 121 Bridge which was slated for a major $4.1 million overhaul this summer until its structural steel was discovered to be very deteriorated won’t be closed until next spring for its full rehabilitation.
J.B. McCarthy, an engineer with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said Thursday that no firm date had been slated for the construction project, but he ruled out any closing this fall or winter.
He said his goal is to minimize the closure of the busy bridge to an eight-month period. Previously there were estimates of closures lasting for up to 18 months.
The state has hired a design firm to redesign the bridge, which will need much more extensive repairs than originally anticipated, McCarthy said. The steel in question is more than 80 years old.
And McCarthy also ruled out one suggestion that the state put in a temporary bridge during the eight-month closure, saying it would cost too much and take too long to get all the necessary permits and rights-of-way in place.
The original closure was expected to be for 60 days this summer.
McCarthy said the current estimate for construction of the new project is from early spring until October 2023, with demolition of the existing deck starting next spring.
“The town wants to minimize closure,” he said. “It’s all dependent on when we get the steel,” he said, noting if the state receives the new steel by June or July 2023, the bridge could be reopened in October 2023.
A lot depends on the delivery of the structural steel needed for the project, he said. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, steel would be delivered five to six months after being ordered. During COVID, that stretched out to 14 to 16 months, he said.
Peter Golec, chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, gave the board an update on the Route 121 bridge project Tuesday night, and he said he had attended a recent meeting of the Westminster Select Board to hear about the latest plans and get a sense of Westminster’s thinking.
While Rockingham will not be contributing financially to the bridge project, its closure will have a big impact on the communities of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River, Golec said. He said there was some talk about a temporary bridge, but he said Westminster had rejected that because of the cost.
Golec said there would be a meeting Aug. 23 to discuss the bridge project; he couldn’t say at this point whether Rockingham would push for a temporary bridge. McCarthy said the state should know what steel it would need to order in September.
The main detours for the bridge closure — when it happens — will be the Back Westminster Road, which links Route 121 to Interstate 91 at Exit 5, with a short distance to U.S. Route 5.
For Saxtons River residents, the main detour appears to be either Rockingham Hill Road or Pleasant Valley Road, both of which lead to Route 103.
McCarthy said that for now the bridge’s original contractor, Renaud Brothers of Vernon, is still on board, although during a July meeting of the Westminster Select Board, Renaud representatives expressed concern for the concentrated time line for the new bridge, which would reuse the existing bridge’s piers and abutments.
Renaud said such a concentrated timeline would mean working at night on the project, and other extended hours.
McCarthy said the two piers that are in the Saxtons River need repair, but he said it’s possible that work could take place ahead of construction. He said the bridge does not need to be closed for the pier work.