Bad Bridges: Record Funding Set to Repair Over 100 Vermont Bridges

By Steph Machado

Published 02/28 2014 07:56PM

Updated 03/02 2014 11:40PM

ROCHESTER, Vt. - Worn out, deteriorating, and wrecked by storms; drivers are rolling over some of Vermont's worst bridges every day.

More than two years ago, a bridge in Rochester, Vt. washed away all together.

"We were isolated here after Irene, because the bridges were gone," said Kevin McLaughlin, who lives on Route 73 in Rochester.

The force of the storm sent the bridge connecting Route 100 and Route 73 plunging into the White River, practically turning the small town into an island. It's known as the "R.I.P." bridge after someone spray-painted those letters on what was left of it.

Residents of Rochester have been waiting more than two years since Tropical Storm Irene for the bridge to be replaced. VTrans put up a temporary bridge in the meantime.

Sandy Haas represents Rochester in the State Legislature. She says the bridge is used by nearly everyone in the town.

"The bridge went down on Sunday. By Tuesday we had a funky little footbridge. People went all the way around and left cars here, all along here, so they would drive to that side, walk across, get in the car here and go wherever they had to go," Rep. Haas said.

It took two months for VTrans to put up the temporary bridge, a satisfactory but imperfect solution. Rep. Haas says the bridge is too narrow, for example.

"It's not say with that bridge…to be a pedestrian," she said. "It allows people to get from here to there. But I'm very much looking forward to the permanent bridge."

That brand new bridge is finally on its way, according to Mike Hedges, the Director of Structures for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

"We have a backlog of deficient structures that we're trying to take care of," Hedges said. In January, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vermont) announced a record amount of transportation funding in his proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget address. That fiscal year goes from July 2014 to July 2015.

"We must continue rebuilding our aging transportation network to make up for the maintenance and repair neglected for years, so that we provide Vermonters with good roads, strong bridges once again," Shumlin said in the speech.

His proposed VTrans budget is upwards of $650 million. That's $33 million more than FY 2014, a 5% increase. It includes more than $140 million for bridges, which will help replace or repair more than 100 bridges in Vermont. That's a record number in one year, and it includes Interstate, State Highway and Town Highway bridges. 

"This is a very tough places for bridges, in terms of parts of the country," explained Hedges. "Because we have this freeze-thaw and we have a lot of moisture, too." That's the issue plaguing three bridges on I-89 in Waterbury that have worn down over time by the sheer nature of being in Vermont; snowmelt and salt have gone into the joints, wearing them out.

"The new bridge design will have a continuous deck there so water won't be getting into those joints," said Hedges, explaining one of the ways VTrans is working to prevent future bridges from deteriorating as quickly. The Waterbury project has a price tag of nearly $13 million.

The number one bridge on the VTrans priority list is a 75-year-old bridge over the Mad River on Route 100 in Warren. Recent inspections dating back more than two years report "Full depth deck failures likely," and "Full bridge replacement is needed." The bridge scores a 4 out of 9 on a federal scale in several categories, which the report says is the "minimum tolerable criteria." Not enough to close it, says Hedges.

"If we're down at a 2 or a 0 we have to look very carefully at closing the bridge. But if it just becomes structurally deficient at a 4 it comes to our radar that something needs to be done to the bridge," he said.

That bridge is one that will finally be replaced in FY 2015, costing about $1.6 million.

Back in Rochester, VTrans is using a new program called Accelerated Bridge Construction.

"After Irene, we realized there was some tolerance for closing a bridge and getting in there, making the fixes and getting out as quickly as we can," said Hedges. The Rochester project is called the Fast Four on 73. In addition to the RIP bridge, three more bridges on Route 73 will be fixed or replaced simultaneously. One other was damaged by Irene, and the other two are falling apart from age, having been built in 1929 after the 1927 flood.

VTrans plans to get in and out of Rochester in one construction season. The plan is to shut down Route 73 for two weeks in July.

"Well it was closed for two months during Irene, so two weeks doesn't seem so bad," said Kevin McLaughlin.
"I think it will be a great inconvenience," said Rep. Haas. "But at the end of it, we'll have new bridges."

The cost for that project is nearly $10 million, to hopefully keep Rochester connected for a long time.

In order for any of these projects to happen, the State Legislature has to approve the FY15 budget; the chair of the House Transportation committee Rep. Pat Brennan (R-Colchester) says his committee does plan to recommend the budget keep the proposed transportation funding. 

VTrans Top 10 Priority List
  1. Warren: Bridge 166 on VT100
  2. Andover: Bridge 141 on VT11
  3. Lincoln: Bridge 19 on FAS 188
  4. Bristol: Bridge 6 on VT116
  5. Johnson: Bridge 32 on VT15
  6. Castleton: Bridge 93 on VT30
  7. Walden: Bridge 83 on VT15
  8. Waitsfield: Bridge 177 on VT100
  9. Pittsfield: Bridge 126 on VT100
  10. Sunderland: Bridge 16 on FAS 114

Interstate Bridge Projects for FY 2015 

(some of these projects are two bridges; both north and southbound)
  • Brattleboro: Bridge 9
  • Derby: Bridge 1
  • Georgia: Bridge 83
  • Hartford: Bridge 43
  • Lebanon-Hartford: Connecticut River Bridge
  • Littleton-Hartford: Connecticut River Bridge
  • Milton: Bridge 81
  • Ryegate: Bridge 58
  • South Burlington: Bridge 63
  • Waterbury: Bridge 46 and 46A
  • Statewide Culvert Rehab
State Highway Bridge Projects for FY 2015
  • Addison: Culvert on VT17
  • Andover: Bridge 41 on VT11
  • Bethel: Bridge 36 on VT12
  • Bridport: Two short bridges
  • Bristol: Bridge 6 on VT116
  • Bristol: Bridge 8 on VT116
  • Brookfield: Floating Bridge
  • Burke: Bridge 13 on VT14
  • Calais: Bridge 74 on VT14
  • Calais: Bridge 82 on VT14
  • Cambridge: Bridge 21 on VT108
  • Castleton: Bridge 93 on VT30
  • East Montpelier: Bridge 68 on VT14
  • Essex: Culvert on VT117
  • Hyde Park: Bridge 42 on VT15
  • Irasburg: Bridge 6 & 7 on VT58
  • Johnson: Bridge 32 on VT15
  • Lancaster-Guildhall: Bridge 127 on US2 CT River Bridge
  • Littleton-Waterford: Scour Mitigation on VT18 and I-93
  • Lunenburg: Bridge 126 on US2
  • Marlboro: Bridge 48 on VT9
  • Middlebury: Bridge 13 on VT125
  • Middlebury: Bridges on VTR
  • Middlesex: Bridge 77 on VT12
  • Morristown: Bridge 1 on VT15A
  • Pittsfield: Bridge 126 on VT100
  • Richford-Sutton QC: Bridge 3 on VT105A
  • Rochester: Bridge 15 on VT73
  • Rochester: Bridge 16 on VT73
  • Royalton: Bridge 27 & Bridge 26 on VT14
  • Ryegate: US5 Culvert and Bridge 116
  • Stowe: Bridge 208 on VT100
  • Stowe: Bridge 3 on VT108
  • Waitsfield: Bridge 177 on VT100
  • Waitsfield: Bridge 208 on VT100
  • Walden: Bridge 83 on VT15
  • Wardsboro: Bridge 70 on VT100
  • Wardsboro: Bridge 68 on VT100
  • Warren: Bridge 166 on VT100
  • West Windsor: Bridge 4
  • Wilmington: Bridge 47 on VT100
  • Winhall: Bridge 47 on VT30
  • Woodstock: Bridge 24 on VT106
Emergency Relief Bridges (Tropical Storm Irene) for FY 2015
  • Barnard: Bridge 25 on VT12
  • Cavendish:  Bridge 1 on VT131
  • Jamaica: Bridge 78 on VT100
  • Jamaica: Bridge 30 on VT30
  • Pittsfield: Bridge 124 on VT100
  • Rochester: Bridge 19 on VT173
  • Rochester: Bridge 13 on VT173
Town Highway Bridges for FY 2015
  • Bennington: Bridge 57 on Hunt St. West
  • Brandon: Bridge 114 on US7
  • Brattleboro: Bridge 7 on TH12
  • Brattleboro-Hinsdale, NH: Connecticut River Bridge
  • Bristol: Bridge 31 on TH5
  • Cambridge: Bridge 28 on TH46
  • Clarendon: Bridge 11 on TH3
  • Colchester: Bridge 12 on TH27
  • Corinth: Bridge 36 on TH16
  • Enosburg: Bridge 48 on TH2
  • Fairfield: Bridge 14 on FAS 281
  • Fairfield: Bridge 48 on TH30
  • Fairfield: Bridge 65 on TH47
  • Guilford: Bridge 65 on TH13
  • Hartford-Lebanon, NH: Bridge 58
  • Huntington: Bridge 30 on TH22
  • Lincoln: Bridge 19 on TH1
  • Ludlow: Bridge 25 on VT103
  • Montgomery: Bridge 36 on TH10
  • Montgomery: Covered Bridge 33
  • Montpelier: Granite St. Bridge
  • New Haven: Bridge 10 on TH2
  • Randolph: Bridge 35 on TH65
  • Richford: Bridge 6 on FAS 302
  • Rockingham: Bridge 11 on TH1
  • Rutland City: Bridge 2 on River St.
  • Rutland City: Bridge 14 on Forest St.
  • Rutland City: Bridge 17 on Ripley Rd.
  • Shrewsbury: Covered Bridge 34
  • Shrewsbury: Bridge 37 on TH4
  • St. Johnsbury: Bridge 46 on TH371
  • Stamford: Add Bridge on TH14
  • Stewartstown-Canaan: Connecticut River Bridge
  • Stowe: Bridge 2 on VT108
  • Woodstock: Bridge 23 on TH18

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