Richmond bridge could go back to one-lane traffic

Renovations likely in 2009

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Richmond’s Checkered House truss bridge will get a $9 million makeover in the next 2-3 years, according to state and local officials. But before that happens, drivers might see the bridge closed to two-way traffic as it was over the summer.

Until the renovations begin, the 76-year-old bridge will remain up and running, while being inspected at least once a year for potential problems. The bridge was narrowed to one lane of traffic in July, due to rust and cracks in the floor structure, but was reopened to two-way traffic in October.

“We are inspecting it on an annual basis now,” said Roger Whitcomb, who is overseeing the project for the state. “There is a possibility that it will be down to one lane again. There are a number of places where it is rusty.”

Whitcomb said the bridge, located on U.S. Route 2 between Williston and Richmond, was not made to withstand the amount of traffic it sees now, but some of the bridge is sturdy enough to reuse.

“It was built in 1929, so it wasn’t built to the same standards we have today,” Whitcomb said. “The trusses themselves are pretty rugged. … Those are rugged enough that we can reuse them.”

He said the new, widened bridge will have basically the same design as the current bridge, but will have a new floor system to increase the load capacity.

Richmond Town Administrator Ron Rodjenski said he is looking forward to having the project completed. The town held a meeting Oct. 20 to discuss the project with the public. Rodjenski said the response was positive and things are moving forward.

“It’s as close as it’s been to being fixed in a long time,” Rodjenski said.

He said that possibly as early as 2008, a temporary bridge will be set up while the construction takes place. The proposed plan would leave the south edge of the bridge about where it is, and the north edge of the bridge will be moved out to make it about 30 feet wide. Meanwhile, the temporary bridge would allow traffic to pass while the bridge is being rebuilt.

Whitcomb said there was a “slight possibility” construction would begin in 2008, but a more likely start date would be in 2009.

Renovation plans have been in the works for almost 10 years, Rodjenski said. But because of historic preservation issues, and design issues, the plans have had to be revised numerous times.

The 350-foot-long bridge is the longest truss bridge in Vermont, and so it has unique historical value.

Whitcomb works on bridge projects all over the state for the Agency of Transportation, but said the Richmond bridge is worth the extra effort.

“This particular one is pretty special, so I think it’s worth saving,” he said.

But, he cautioned that the current condition of the bridge was not ideal, and the bridge could go down to one lane again.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again,” he said.