Townshend's Scott Bridge stable, but future is shaky

Thursday April 4, 2013

TOWNSHEND -- The 143-year-old Scott Covered Bridge has been stabilized.

But the span, off Route 30 in Townshend, remains off-limits even to pedestrian traffic pending further repairs.

A recent study found that those renovations could cost $1.5 million. But officials are cautiously optimistic that, even in a state with a tight budget, some cash might be available to eventually reopen the bridge.

"It's still being looked at," said Matt Mann, a senior planner specializing in transportation issues at the Windham Regional Commission. "Hopefully, some money can be found."

The 277-foot bridge over the West River dates to 1870. The town deeded the bridge to the state in 1955, when it was the first bridge selected for preservation by the Vermont Historic Sites Commission.

In 1973, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The latest engineering analysis, conducted by Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, says the bridge is considered significant because it combines three structural systems -- town lattice truss, laminated plank arch and kingpost through truss.

Over the past century, there have been several attempts to reinforce the bridge. Examples include the 1915 application of concrete facing on piers and the 1961 installation of steel beams under the center of the main span.

Also, a concrete pier was constructed in 1981.

But the bridge has long been closed to vehicular traffic. And in February 2012, the state Agency of Transportation shut the structure entirely due to continued deterioration.

The Hoyle, Tanner & Associates study says the bridge is in "poor condition."

"The town lattice trusses contain extensive rot and buckling of the top chord," the report says. "Added nail-laminated arches have failed and no longer provide any support to the bridge."

Aside from a repair project, the Manchester, N.H.-based company also looked at two other options: Doing nothing and constructing a new bridge immediately upstream or downstream.

Both were ruled out.

The so-called "no-build" alternative "does not address the structurally deficient condition of the covered bridge," the study's authors wrote. "Selection of this alternative would not prevent further deterioration, which could cause eventual collapse of the covered bridge into the West River."

As for constructing a new bridge upstream or downstream, the consultant found that such a project would "necessitate greater property and environmental impacts," the study says. "Furthermore, either of these alternatives results in poor geometry of road crossing."

So the consultant concluded that "it appears feasible to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian traffic."

But that won't be cheap. The study estimates costs at more than $1.5 million for extensive work including replacement of the roof, decking and any deteriorated boards, rafters, bracing, cross beams and other structures.

"To get it back to having it be a safe bridge to walk on, it's still going to take a sizable amount of funding," Mann said.

Mann said he and Townshend Selectboard member David Dezendorf last year attended a meeting of the state's Historic Covered Bridge Committee to discuss the Scott Bridge.

At that point, officials pledged that the bridge would undergo emergency stabilization work "especially with the onset of winter, so it would hold its own weight and that of the snow," Mann said.

That work occurred, and it included installation of metal girders to stabilize the bridge, Mann said.

However, there is no schedule for more extensive repairs. Vermont is facing projected transportation funding shortfalls, and the state House recently approved a gas-tax hike just to help plug a $36.5 million funding gap for fiscal year 2014.

Mann said it's possible that other types of funding might be available for the historic bridge. He also acknowledged that the project might be a tough sell for some.

"Some people aren't going to like it. They might say that money should have gone toward paving another few miles of road," Mann said. "But I think a majority of us support trying to preserve our covered bridges."

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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