State hears Quechee bridge feedback

  • One of the barriers under consideration for the Quechee Gorge Bridge. (Courtesy Vermont Agency of Transportation)

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, April 08, 2019

HARTFORD — Officials on Monday night polled a group of about two dozen people on what they hope a permanent barrier wall at the Quechee Gorge will look like when the Vermont Agency of Transportation completes a bridge rehabilitation project at the site in 2021-22.

The majority of the people in attendance said they liked the idea of a green, 9-foot-tall steel barrier with a curve at the top, something akin to the temporary fence that was erected on both sides of the bridge in October.

The temporary fence, which is chain link, has been successful at deterring people from committing suicide at the popular natural tourist attraction, police and fire officials said at the meeting at Hartford Town Hall. Only one person has attempted to scale the fence, and the curve stopped the individual from getting up and over it in time for an off-duty officer to pull him or her down, an official said.

The permanent barrier is the last in a series of steps to prevent suicides while also improving pedestrian and first-responder safety at the gorge. The permanent wall is being combined with a bridge rehabilitation project, which will include upgrades to the aging span, widened sidewalks and a permanent railing to separate pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

Gill Engineering’s Senior Structural Engineer Amy Spera presented attendees with several project options. She asked them if they preferred a black or green barrier with a straight, curved or angled top; vertical lines or a circle design on the lower portion of the barrier; and a gap at the bottom to look through and down to the 165-foot drop below.

State Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, and Hartford Planning Commission member Robin Adair Logan sparred over the color options, with Clarkson favoring “dark green,” and Adair Logan recommending black to keep with the bridge’s “historic” nature.

“Green is great,” Clarkson said.

“I don’t like the green,” Adair Logan fired back.

Most people favored a curve at the top of the barrier as opposed to one that is straight or angled because they said it would make it harder to climb.

Attendees liked some type of “ornamentation” within the design, as Project Outreach Manager Jill Barrett put it, but no one favored the gap.

The vertical steel rods that will make up the upper portion of the barrier wall will be 8 inches apart, so visitors can theoretically stick their heads through them and peer down, Selectman Alan Johnson said.

The sidewalks will be widened to 5 or 6 feet from 4-feet-2-inches, a width that shrunk to 3-feet-6-inches when a temporary railing is installed in the summer months.

Part of the project will entail installing a permanent railing to protect pedestrians; in the last 5 years, there have been 44 vehicular accidents on the bridge, many of them involving pedestrians, Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said.

The permanent railing will be about 2 feet high, something Johnson said could be a tripping hazard and cause people to fall into traffic.

“I’m worried about the lady there getting bumped by 10-year-olds playing tag,” he said.

Others didn’t see it that way.

“I don’t think people will topple,” Adair Logan said.

Project officials plan to take the feedback from those at the meeting and start crafting more permanent plans. They also will launch an online survey Tuesday to garner feedback from the members of the public who couldn’t attend.

The temporary fence and other safety measures at the gorge stem from legislation passed in 2016 requiring officials to implement suicide-prevention measures and improve safety in response to suicides and other incidents.

The gorge was the site of 14 suicides between 2007 and July 2018, police said previously.

In December 2018, officials scrapped an idea to install a net below the bridge to catch individuals in the event they went over the bridge.

The project isn’t slated to be completed until 2022.

The total project, which is 80 percent federally funded, is slated to cost more than $5 million.

The survey can be found on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s website by clicking on construction projects and Quechee Gorge Bridge. The survey will be live for about one month.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.