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New Limits for Lyme Bridge

Traffic Signals and 15-Ton Max Weight

  • Will Fullerton left, and Chris Moen of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation set up traffic lights on the Lyme, N.H. side of the East Thetford Road Bridge on May 28, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Will Fullerton left, and Chris Moen of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation set up traffic lights on the Lyme, N.H. side of the East Thetford Road Bridge on May 28, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • A section  along the East Thetford Road Bridge between Thetford, Vt., and Lyme N.H., on May 28, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    A section along the East Thetford Road Bridge between Thetford, Vt., and Lyme N.H., on May 28, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Will Fullerton left, and Chris Moen of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation set up traffic lights on the Lyme, N.H. side of the East Thetford Road Bridge on May 28, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • A section  along the East Thetford Road Bridge between Thetford, Vt., and Lyme N.H., on May 28, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Lyme — The thousands of drivers who daily cross the East Thetford Road Bridge will now have to wait for a green light and those carrying particularly heavy loads will have to seek an alternate route.

The 471-foot-long steel truss bridge spanning the Connecticut River between Thetford and Lyme has a new weight restriction and travel is down to one lane after an inspection which found “extensive deterioration” of a steel stringer, a beam supporting the bridge’s concrete deck, said Mark Richardson of the state’s Bridge Design Bureau.

Four New Hampshire Department of Transportation employees spent Wednesday afternoon setting up cones blocking one lane and temporary traffic lights were installed on both ends of the 1937-era bridge.

Many nearby businesses said they would be unaffected by the weight limit, but Arend Tensen, of Tensen Farms, based on River Road in Lyme, said the 15-ton weight limit will force him to reroute some of his farm equipment through Orford or Hanover.

Tensen said his trucks cross the East Thetford Road bridge “all the time” during the corn harvest in the fall. He plants corn, 350 acres in all, in fields on both sides of the river.

He worried about traffic in Hanover, and the additional expenses in fuel and time.

“It’s going to be an inconvenience,” he said.

“On the flip side, I’m more than happy to see them improve the roads,” he said. “Our roads are despicable.”

Over time, said Richardson of NHDOT, road salt and moisture have corroded the metal. If the bridge had been cleaned, painted and properly maintained, he said, the state “wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Regularly clearing sand and salt from the bridge’s steel components would help ward off corrosion, he said.

“Ideally, bridge maintenance crews would have enough time to go out there at least once a year,” he said.

Instead, DOT staff aim to wash the more than 3,800 bridges within its purview every two years, said Richardson.

“I’m not sure if that’s happening or not,” he said.

The bridge likely will remain one lane through the summer until DOT has time to make temporary repairs. The weight limit of 15 tons will remain in place until the bridge can be fully rehabilitated, currently scheduled for 2022.

Richardson said the state does not “have sufficient staff to go and take care of this right now.”

Andy Hall, a DOT construction engineer on site in Lyme on Wednesday, said the district has to finish the Route 4 bridge between West Lebanon and White River Junction before it could turn its attention to Lyme.

“We can’t just leave right in the middle of it,” he said.

According to New Hampshire’s red list of 147 bridges in need of repair, the East Thetford Road Bridge is ranked 63 in priority, with an anticipated price tag of $4.5 million to overhaul.

Richardson said he was unsure whether the bridge’s priority ranking would be adjusted because of the structural problems.

Once a bridge reaches this stage of deterioration, the chemical processes causing it can begin to accelerate, he said.

State Sen. David Pierce, D-Lebanon, said the DOT is doing the best it can with limited resources.

With the “paucity of funding that we give them, they can only do so much,” he said.

That said, because this particular bridge is in his district, Pierce said he would reach out to transportation officials. Similarly, Executive Councilor Joe Kenney also said he would connect with department officials.

He said that in his experience “when the Executive Council gets involved and makes a case it should be pushed up, then things can be moved up as far as a priority.”

Kenney said there are “just a ton” of red listed bridges in New Hampshire and “not enough money to replace them all.”

Thetford resident Jerry Bisson said the new bridge restrictions might present a challenge for the planned opening of his used car dealership, Thumbs Up Used Cars, in six to eight weeks.

On the other hand, Bisson, whose garage sits on the west side of the railroad tracks in East Thetford, said if 2,100 drivers that cross the bridge each day are forced to slow down as they approach the bridge, they might have a better view of his products.

Ed O’Keeffe, showroom manager at Pompanoosuc Mills, said the bridge restrictions will not affect the East Thetford furniture manufacturer.

He said the company’s trucks weigh less than 15 tons because they have to be small enough to fit in customers’ driveways. In addition, the company ships most of its furniture north to Burlington or south as far as Washington, D.C. via the interstate on the Vermont side of the river.

“It’s such a minor inconvenience,” said O’Keeffe.

Bonnie Huggett, owner of Huggett’s Mini Mart near the intersection of Route 5 and Route 113 in East Thetford, said she thought “most people will be patient” with the bridge restrictions.

Those who opt to cross in Lyme to avoid traffic in Hanover won’t mind waiting for one light, she predicted.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.