A Spanking New Span: Quechee Celebrates Replacement of Bridge Destroyed by Irene
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and Hartford Selectboard member F.X. Flinn wave pieces of ribbon at yesterday’s ceremony to mark the opening of the Quechee Covered Bridge. The bridge has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene severely damaged the structure. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Eve Roiter, 8, of Southborough, Mass., takes in the view from the newly opened Quechee bridge after yesterday’s ceremony. At right is Kate Bayard, of Medford, Mass., holding her daughter Hazel, age 20 months. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Hundreds of people wait in the cold and snow for ceremony marking the opening of the new Quechee Covered Bridge yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Architect David Kadoch, of Quechee, takes photographs of the post-and-beam construction of the Quechee Covered Bridge yesterday. Kadoch said he thought the bridge was beautiful and that he appreciated the old and new forms of design coming together. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee — When the pomp subsided and the crowd at the Quechee Covered Bridge dispersed, a van drove past Simon Pearce and edged toward the bridge. Someone yelled for it to cross. Hartford Selectboard Vice Chairman F.X. Flinn, who had been standing nearby, hopped in the passenger seat.
The car began to move, and Shelly Yusko, of Quechee, became the first resident to drive her own vehicle over the brand new bridge.
She stopped on the Route 4 side, and Flinn, also of Quechee, hopped out. A line of cars had already formed behind her.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Yusko said, before driving off.
Several hundred people came to the new Quechee Bridge yesterday as it was formally opened to vehicle traffic, 16 months after Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the old one. Irene turned 30 second jaunts to the post office into six-minute detours. It separated two halves of the village.
A bond issue passed by voters at last March’s Town Meeting raised $1.6 million of the $2.2 million project, said Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker, and the remainder was made up in state and federal money. According to Selectboard member Alex DeFelice, the lowest bid for construction was $600,000 over budget, and some compromises had to be made, such as sharing space with the wastewater treatment plant, to rein in the cost.
But it was always going to get done, he said.
“It’s a major part of the village, and there’s no way you’re going to say, ‘Geez, we’re not going to do it,’ ” DeFelice said.
A brief, snow-shortened ribbon cutting yesterday heard speeches from Parker and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who recalled his tour of the devastation following Irene. The end of his remarks — “More power to you, we’re back, let’s cut this ribbon and celebrate this great community” — drew cheers and the muffled patter of gloved hands clapping.
And then the community began to make its way, on foot, across the bridge.
Stephanie Dorosko stood with her husband, Rob Robertson, off to the side. She looked over the bridge and into the Ottauquechee River below.
“I keep feeling tears in my eyes,” she said. “We haven’t seen this view in so long from this angle.”
Robertson and Dorosko live at the Red Barn on Quechee Main Street, they said, and have been following the construction process. But they haven’t been the only ones.
“Look how many came to see (it),” Robertson said.
Although the ceremony was a celebration of the bridge’s opening, the project isn’t entirely complete. While vehicle traffic is good to go, there are not yet any sidewalks for foot traffic, and the roadway is dirt packed atop concrete.
DeFelice said those changes will be completed in the spring. There will be another ceremony after the work has been done.
“In a sense, this is a prelude, but it’s an important one,” Parker said.
The focus of the short gathering, then, was what had been accomplished rather than what still needed to be. On the bridge, Dave Clark, who also lives down the street, noted the sense of optimism among those in the crowd as they waited patiently in the snowfall, and then as they traversed the new bridge.
“It’s kind of like having a body part without circulation,” he said of the old bridge, which was for so long a symbol of Irene’s destruction.
But, beginning yesterday, it was open again. According to Flinn, the bridge’s lifespan is at least 75 years, but will likely stay in use for longer.
“I’m thrilled,” said Flinn, the only Selectboard member who lives in Quechee. “Everything did pretty much go according to plan.”