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Mt. Orne Covered Bridge to be repaired this winter

November 02, 2011
LANCASTER — It's going to happen!

The now-closed 100-year-old Mt. Orne Covered Bridge that spans the Connecticut River to connect Lancaster and Lunenburg will be repaired this winter.

NHDOT Commissioner Christopher Clement, Sr., confirmed this good news at a lunch stop at the Northland Dairy in Berlin during a recent NHDOT District I transportation projects tour organized for Councilor Ray Burton. In June 2010, a tractor-trailer driver who relied on erroneous advice provided by his GPS unit slammed into the upper framing elements of the bridge, causing extensive damage. The bridge, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, turned out to have a number of other structural issues, unrelated to the crash. Repairs to the damage from the accident was completed last fall, paid for by the trucking outfit's insurance company.

Nonetheless, the bridge remained closed to any traffic — vehicular or pedestrian — requiring Vermonters who shop in downtown Lancaster or use Weeks Medical Center to make a detour.

"I still get questioned daily as to when the bridge will open," said Lancaster Town Manager Ed Sampson.

A NHDOT maintenance crew is expected to spend the coming four months working on the bridge, allowing it to reopen with a six-ton load rating, at a cost of $225,000. The state will pay 80 percent of the cost, and the town 20 percent, explained NHDOT spokesman Bill Boynton, who was on the tour with Clement.

All the vertical steel rods will be replaced, timber diagonals repaired with splices, nine timber thrust blocks replaced, and planking in the wheel lines that run the full length of the bridge will also be replaced.

The work will not, however, include roof repairs needed because of some shotgun blasts, installation of a fire protection system, or any additional knee braces.

"The bridge sag will be improved but not eliminated," reported senior engineer Steve Johnson of the NHDOT's Bureau of Bridge Maintenance in a letter to NHDOT project coordinator Nancy Mayville.

The state also offered Samson a less expensive option that would only have allowed the bridge to be posted with a 3-ton load rating. That short-term solution would have cost $165,000, and only included replacing 46 rods rather than all of them.

Samson chose the more expensive option in order to secure a 6-ton load rating for the historic bridge.

When he heard that the bridge would be repaired this winter, photographer Fletcher Manley of Lancaster exclaimed, "Fantastic!" Manley said that during the summer months he will once again be able to enjoy riding his bicycle to work at Stinehour Editions in South Lunenburg.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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