Lyme-East Thetford bridge will wait another year for repairs after no one wants job

  • A New Hampshire Department of Transportation worker walks along the East Thetford Road Bridge between Thetford, Vt., and Lyme N.H., on May 28, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2022 7:37:12 AM
Modified: 1/16/2022 7:36:07 AM

LYME — Coats of rust, washed-out concrete and spreading cracks earned the Lyme-East Thetford Bridge a place on New Hampshire’s “red list” of bridges in disrepair in 2013. Now, needed repairs will wait until at least a decade after that urgent warning.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation had budgeted $8 million for the project, but no contractors bid on it, pushing repairs until at least 2023. Companies did not believe they could complete it on the given timeline given staffing and supply shortages, according to the department. The department will re-advertise the project for bidding this spring.

“Right now, we’re in a really tough bidding climate,” said Jennifer Reczek, the consultant design chief at NHDOT. Projects across the state have gotten only one or two bids, and she has seen costs rise 10 to 20%.

Repairs on the Lyme-East Thetford Bridge would span two years. NHDOT would close the bridge from April to November in the first year of repairs, reopen the bridge over the winter and close it for an additional three months the following spring while contractors remove lead paint and repaint it. The department is considering whether to offer to close the bridge for additional months to give contractors more time.

“We’re investigating how to best balance the needs of the contracting community — so that they feel comfortable that they can complete it — and the discomfort in the community about having the bridge closed,” Reczek said.

Closing the bridge would add 15 to 30 minutes to Katrin Tchana’s commute to Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, where she is a clinical social worker, from her home in Lyme. The nearest bridges over the Connecticut River in Orford and Hanover require an 8- or 10-mile detour. Tchana depends on the bridge to work, get groceries, fill up on gas and visit farm stands in the summer — but she’s worried that it may not be safe.

Since 2013, NHDOT has been inspecting the bridge every six months and completing as-needed repairs. There is also 15-ton weight limit.

“Just to reiterate, the bridge is safe,” Reczek said. For a bridge as old as it is, it is actually in good condition, she said.

After a catastrophic 1936 flood washed out an older bridge, a Workers Progress Administration built the truss-style bridge with its steel latticework. In 2020, the bridge joined the National Register of Historic Places. Several Lyme residents have expressed concern that the bridge’s protected status may be delaying the project or preventing NHDOT from building a new bridge.

While the department’s plan calls for repairs to the existing structure, some nearby residents argue the bridge needs to be replaced outright.

They argue that a modern, wider bridge with room for bicycles and pedestrians would better serve residents.

“With no pedestrian lanes, it’s harrowing for anyone not in the vehicle,” said Mike Novello, who lives near the bridge and regularly uses it with his wife and children.

Years ago, residents also asked about the possibility of adding a sidewalk during in the design process, Reczek said. But the bridge and existing roadway are too narrow to add a bike lane or shoulder, and structural analysis concluded that the existing structure could not handle the extra load. It is also unusual to include a sidewalk on a bridge that connects to roads without sidewalks, she added.

Grass on the side of the road on either end of the bridge makes room for pedestrians, according to Novello, but the bridge itself is so narrow that it leaves little room to walk across. He and other residents expressed frustration that their concerns had not been taken into account.

“I recognize its historic value,” said Steve Campbell, Novello’s neighbor. “I would prefer that it is somehow commemorated, but I think the importance of having a safe, modern structure overrides that.”

Complicating the project is the fact that it will draw on federal money, Reczek clarified, so it has to comply with federal rules that protect resources that are eligible for the historic registry.

“Even if not listed, it would still receive the same protections,” she said.

But the bridge’s historic value did not drive the decision to rehabilitate it rather than replace it, she said. Building a new bridge would have a heavy impact on the environment and private property — which the federal regulations factor in.

“Typically, a replacement is the more expensive option. Again, through those federal processes, rehabilitation is always the first thing that we look at,” she said. “If feasible, we go ahead and do that.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727- 3242.




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