Above, a crowd crosses the new Quechee Bridge Saturday for the first time since its construction over the Ottauquechee River began. The original was washed away by Tropical Storm Irene. At left, Gov. Peter Shumlin talks with local officials at the opening ceremony.
QUECHEE — The Quechee Bridge opened to motor vehicles Saturday, but the vehicles lined up to cross the bridge had to wait for a throng of foot traffic to cross first.
Roughly 300 townspeople gathered at the north end of the new bridge Saturday for what Hartford Selectman Ken Parker described as an “auspicious” occasion in the town’s history.
“This is a great day,” Parker told the crowd shortly before he and a number of other town and state officials cut a ribbon to officially open the $2.2 million Ottauquechee River crossing just off Route 4. “What could be better than opening the bridge?”
Judging by the enthusiasm of the crowd, not much.
“It’s been like having an arm cut off for the last year and a half,” said Alexandra Adler, chef and owner of the Parker House Inn located on the north side of the river. “We’ve become a seven-mile cul-de-sac back here.”
Adler spoke for many of her neighbors who, while not cut off from the rest of the world, have been a lot farther from it since Tropical Storm Irene washed away the original bridge in August 2011.
For Kelly Douglas, whose home sits on the north side of the river almost within a stone’s throw of the bridge, the lack of a span has added time onto her husband’s daily commute to work and has prevented her from taking her two daughters and son to a playground just across the river.
“It’s going to be a lot better now and a lot quieter,” Douglas said. “We heard all of the construction, even though we got used to it after a while.”
Since Irene, state and local officials have worked together to find funds for the new construction. The town itself financed $1.6 million of the project using a bond passed last year at town meeting in Hartford, of which Quechee is a village.
Before helping to cut the ribbon, Gov. Peter Shumlin recalled for the crowd his visit via helicopter in the hours after the bridge was destroyed.
“When the bridge was ripped out, the heart of the community was ripped out,” Shumlin said. “The devastation was extraordinary.”
He added, “Said simply, the people in this community are Vermont strong and we’ve rebuilt better than Irene found us.”
While part of the bridge’s roof remains unfinished, the new 87-foot-long bridge with its stronger abutments is now open for traffic.
In his remarks to the crowd, Parker said another opening ceremony will be held when the weather warms and work on the bridge is complete.
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