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Joyce Endee

Major repairs underway at Mt. Orne Bridge

Some of the materials for the needed repairs to the Mt. Orne Covered Bridge (NH Bridge No. 30) between Lancaster and Lunenburg were already in place by late Thursday afternoon, and the NHDOT maintenance crew began its work expected to take some three months on Monday, Jan. 9. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
January 11, 2012
LANCASTER — Repairs to the now-closed 101-year-old

Mt. Orne Covered Bridge that spans the Connecticut River to connect Lancaster and Lunenburg have now begun, just as NHDOT Commissioner Christopher Clement Sr. promised in late October.

Members of the NHDOT maintenance crew who moved equipment on site on Thursday and Friday began work on the historic structure on Monday. "They expect to complete the repair work in just over three months' time," explained NHDOT spokesman Bill Boynton in an e-mail exchange. This will likely allow it to reopened in April rated as a six-ton-load structure at a total cost of $225,000. The state will pay 80 percent of the cost, and the town 20 percent, Boynton said.

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 were completed last fall, paid for by the trucking outfit's insurance company.

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

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 bridge cost $6,678 when it was built in 1911.

It is 266 feet, 3 inches long, with clear spans of 127 feet, 4 inches and 126 feet. Its overall width is 20 feet, 6 inches with a narrower roadway width of 14 feet, 5 inches, and a maximum vertical clearance of 13 feet, 3 inches.

The first bridge at this site was constructed in the 1860s or 1870s. The owner, Union Bridge Company, operated it as a toll bridge until a logjam destroyed it in 1908.

Ferry service connected the two communities until a new bridge was built in 1911. Each town contributed $2,500, and the $1,678 balance raised by subscription.

In 1969, a truck loaded with highway salt dropped through the deck and landed on the ice below. The front of the truck hooked onto a steel rod in the bridge while rear rested on the ice. The truck was raised, disengaged from the bridge, and then lowered to the ice. It was quickly dragged away from the salt weakened area, turned upright and loaded onto a flatbed on the Vermont side of the river.

The bridge was closed on July 5, 1983, for 12 weeks to allow it to be rehabilitated by the state of New Hampshire at a cost of $133,000.

Funding came from both the towns of Lancaster and Lunenburg, both New Hampshire and Vermont, and a federal Historic Preservation Fund matching grant from the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior through the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources.

The bridge was rededicated on Nov. 23, 1983.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
Garnett HIll
Varney Smith
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