'Once in a lifetime' tour of Interstate 91 bridge

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BRATTLEBORO — On one of the coldest and windiest days this winter, an estimated 800 people toured the Interstate 91 bridge that's been under construction since 2013.

Boarding five buses from Brattleboro Union High School throughout Saturday afternoon, attendees were brought to the closed portion of the bridge built over the West River and Route 30.

"Somebody told me they were doing this today and I guess it was in the paper," Brattleboro resident Lorna Mitchell said. "And it was once in a lifetime. Anything that's once in a lifetime, you've got to do."

She knows all about the project, traveling I-91 from Exit 1 to Exit 3 to get to work on a daily basis. She has also kayaked underneath the new bridge, which cost about $60 million altogether to build.

Project leaders say more than 42,000 tons of concrete and about 4.6 million pounds of rebar were used during construction. Hundreds of workers were hired for the project, and they addressed everything from preparations through design and construction. Employees on the job are being given the opportunity to transfer to projects in other states.

The contract for the I-91 bridge was awarded to PCL Civil Constructors on May 1, 2013 and the hope had been to open it by late 2015. Delays were said to be related to harsh winter weather conditions, excavation issues and difficulties finding all the hired help needed for the job. About 90 percent of the project, which also includes a smaller bridge over Upper Dummerston Road, is covered by federal funds. The Vermont Agency of Transportation hired PCL as its lead contractor and FIGG Bridge Engineers for design.

Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell had been up on the bridge earlier in construction.

"I was impressed then, too," he said, but this time around, he noted "the joy of sharing the experience together."

Elwell said the weather was a lot colder than the town and tour guides from PCL would have wanted if they had a choice in the matter. The town along with PCL and the Agency of Transportation had organized the event, which Elwell also called a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

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"I appreciate you bearing the cold conditions to come out today," Caleb Linn, project manager from PCL, told one bus filled with passengers of all ages.

"It's a field trip!" yelled one of the younger attendees.

Linn said temperatures would need to cooperate so imperfections could be addressed and the pavement could be striped. The hope is to open the northbound lanes next week and the southbound lanes this spring.

Linn showed attendees an expansion joint on one end of the bridge, which adjusts for different weather conditions with the goal of safe heat absorption. Another expansion joint could be found at the other end of the new bridge, 1,036 feet away.

"It would have to get really warm to close completely," Linn told attendees, who then moved on to take photographs from different locations on the bridge.

Many of the attendees had looked up while traveling along Route 30, noting progress throughout the years of construction. Mitchell was one of them. She said she always wanted to take a photograph while on top of the bridge.

"I love it," she said. "I think it's great."

PCL had described the project as "unique" because the community had requested a design that differed from the company's original proposal, Town Executive Secretary Jan Anderson told the Reformer.

"PCL listened," she said. "They designed it."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.


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