PLAINFIELD — The pedestrian bridge project has shown the bridge on Main Street isn’t as structurally sound as local officials had been told.
The Select Board discussed the project at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The plan is to install a sidewalk on a small portion of Mill Street in the village where it connects with Main Street and continues up Main Street to the bridge that crosses the Winooski River. The bridge will be widened to allow for a pedestrian walkway. Officials have said this plan will make walking in that part of town easier and safer.
Board member Tammy Farnham, who serves as defacto project manager, reported the construction crew that is installing the pedestrian bridge discovered there are some structural issues with the bridge. There is a membrane between the asphalt road surface and the concrete of the bridge itself and Farnham said that membrane did not properly seal to the concrete when it was installed 10 or 15 years ago so water has been able to get between the membrane and concrete. She said this has caused the concrete to erode when cars drive over it. Farnham said it appears the erosion has spread to the bridge’s support beams.
Mike Nolan, the town’s road foreman, said he spoke to the construction crew and was told water is flowing straight through the deck of the bridge onto their heads as they work.
The bridge has been reduced to one lane while the walkway is being installed, and the project calls for the resurfacing of that side of the bridge and replacement of the support beams on that side. But Nolan has said the other side is in dire need of resurfacing as well. It’s now too cold to resurface either side of the bridge, so Farnham said the construction crew is planning to do that work in the spring. She suggested the crew could resurface the entire bridge instead of just one side. Farnham said that will likely cost the town less than having another company come in and resurface the rest of the bridge at a later date.
Nolan said the town needs to do something soon to patch up the holes in the road surface of the bridge so that the salt his road crew will put down to keep the roads safe for travel this winter won’t eat away more of the bridge’s concrete.
There wasn’t much discussion Tuesday about how much these issues might cost the town because officials don’t yet have all the cost estimates for what the bridge needs. Though Farnham said the repairs needed for the pedestrian side of the bridge will cost an extra $3,000 to $5,000.
There have been a couple other issues with this project that have led to increased costs.
One issue was a void discovered under a concrete wall next to the bridge likely caused by water washing out material. The void wasn’t discovered until digging started.
The other is, there is a building that sits next to that part of the bridge. Officials had hoped to leave the front door of the building accessible, but that wasn’t possible after the void was discovered so the construction crew has had to make the entrance at the rear of the building more accessible.
The town is using a federal grant to pay for the bulk of the project, with the town’s match coming from a loan and funds from the Arch Batchelder Fund.
The project had been estimated to cost $649,790 for construction with another about $65,000 set aside for project overruns. It’s unclear whether the town is still covered financially with the $65,000 because Farnham said she hadn’t run the numbers yet to see how much these overruns will cost, but she said she didn’t think they had exceeded that amount.
The board unanimously approved a motion asking resident Alice Merrill, who has been working on grants for the town, to see if there are grants available to resurface and repair the rest of the bridge.
Board member Sasha Thayer said she was annoyed with this latest discovery. Thayer said she asked repeatedly about the status of the bridge and was told by the state Agency of Transportation the bridge was fine. She noted a few years ago the pedestrian bridge was supposed to be a prefabricated bridge that was to hang off the side of the concrete bridge. Thayer said local officials at that time wanted to know whether it made sense to go forward with such a project if there were issues with the bridge itself that would cause the bridge to be replaced. She said they were told by the state the bridge was structurally sound.
“This whole thing makes me feel extremely cautious about relying on what other people say,” she said.
Farnham said this project helped the town discover the issues that were already there and may help the town save some money when it addresses those issues. She said if there are grant funds left over when the pedestrian bridge is finished, she’s been told by the state those funds could be used for bridge repairs.
“So there are some positives,” she said.
Thayer said had the town known about the issues with the bridge years ago, officials might have decided to put funds towards bridge repairs instead of a pedestrian bridge.
Farnham said this issue is about bridge maintenance. She said maybe the town needs to start setting money aside for bridge maintenance instead of waiting until there are issues that need to be addressed.
Board Chair Jim Volz said he understood Thayer’s frustration, but she was being a little unfair to the state. Volz said the state could not have known what the underside of the bridge looked like when it did its inspection.
Farnham said she hasn’t been told the pedestrian bridge will take longer to install because of these issues, so she’s expecting the bridge to revert back to two lanes by the end of the month.