Board Considers Closing West Windsor’s Bowers Covered Bridge

  • Steve Bodley steps over damage to the Bowers Bridge in West Windsor, Vt., on April, 25, 2016. The bridge was washed away by Tropical Storm Irene, and has been damaged a number of times by passing vehicles. Bodley has done the repair work on the bridge.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Bowers Bridge in West Windsor, Vt. has been damaged numerous times by passing vehicles. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, April 28, 2016

Brownsville — After more than a half-dozen incidents in less than four years of overweight and oversized vehicles damaging the single-lane Bowers Covered Bridge, the Selectboard is considering closing it to vehicles.

The board discussed the possibility at its Monday meeting and scheduled a site visit at the bridge at 11 a.m. on May 4.

The bridge carries Bible Hill Road over Mill Brook, and was originally built in 1919.

The most recent damage, earlier this month, was caused by a small truck that tore down a wooden facade installed about two years ago to prevent overweight trucks from going through the 44-foot-long bridge, which has a historic tied-arch construction and a 6-ton weight limit.

Opinions expressed at the Selectboard meeting were mixed and the board did not indicate one way or another how it would proceed.

The board would have to hold a hearing before deciding whether to close the bridge.

“I prefer to leave it open. It is an asset to the town,” Selectboard Chairman Richard Beatty said.

Others agreed, including former Selectboard member Ted Siegler and Steve Bodley, who rebuilt the bridge after it was torn off its abutments during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and has repaired it each time it has been damaged.

“I don’t want to see it closed. I agree it is part of the aesthetics of the town,” said Bodley, owner of Old Vermont Frameworks, a timber-framing business in town.

Bodley noted that West Windsor is home to the only two tied-arch bridges in the state, the other being the 37-foot Best Bridge about a half mile upstream from the Bowers Bridge.

The Bowers Bridge reopened in the summer of 2012 and within a year was severely damaged when a town grader broke one of the horizontal chord members. The bridge had to be lifted off its abutments and placed on land for the six-month repair. Not long after, Bodley said, an oil delivery truck went through and snapped a 6-by-10-foot joist below the deck. When that was fixed, the facade was constructed, resulting in a narrower entrance at both ends that limited the height of vehicles to about 8 feet.

“We thought if we restricted the size of the vehicles, we would restrict the weight. But it also seems to have restricted intelligence,” Bodley said, noting that several vehicles exceeding the height limit have tried to pass through the bridge.

Two years ago, not long after the timber facade was installed, a vehicle with a bike on the roof came through, Bodley said.

“He destroyed his carbon fiber bike, roof rack and damaged his roof,” Bodley said of the driver.

Just days before the most recent damage, a pickup with a ladder angled above the cab also hit and damaged the facade.

Resident John Cocke, who lives on Bible Hill Road and can see the Bowers Bridge from his home, favored closing it. He said he has witnessed a few of the accidents.

“I am glad to have the covered bridge, but personally I would like to see it closed to everything except foot traffic, bicycles and equestrian riders,” Cocke told the Selectboard. “This is the eighth or 10th time it has been damaged.”

The town’s highway department foreman, Mike Spackman, was vehemently against closing the bridge and wanted the facade removed.

“Put it back the way it was. This is ridiculous. What we are doing is wrong,” Spackman said, calling those who use the bridge in overweight vehicles “knuckleheads.”

He said the town needs to catch those causing the damage.

The board said the most recent damage, estimated by Bodley to cost about $800, will be covered by insurance of the truck driver’s business. Town Administrator Martha Harrison said the Selectboard did not want to publicly name the business until discussing it further.

Selectboard member Tom Kenyon suggested closing the bridge to vehicular traffic using a gate to allow emergency vehicles to use it when necessary.

Others said speed was a problem with some drivers, and speed dips or bumps before the bridge could slow them down. Another suggestion was installing a video camera to record any vehicles causing damage.

“It just shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” Bodley said of the damage. “It is just carelessness.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.