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Mt. Orne Covered Bridge reopened on Wednesday

Rated for 6 tons

March 21, 2012
LANCASTER — The historic 101-year-old Mt. Orne Covered Bridge that spans the Connecticut River to connect the southern reaches of the Coös County seat to Lunenburg reopened on Wednesday with a six-ton rating after nine-and-a-half weeks of repairs were completed by the Lancaster crew of the state Bureau of Bridge Maintenance under the aegis of superintendent Joe Ingerson of Whitefield.

Expected to take 15 weeks at a total estimated cost of $225,000, the rehabilitation project cost some $160,000 — about $65,000 under budget.

The state will pay 80 percent of the cost; the town, 20 percent.

Councilor Ray Burton, NHDOT Commissioner Christopher Clement, assistant commissioner and chief engineer Jeff Brillhart, selectmen Leon Rideout and David Stickney, town manager Ed Samson and a number of townspeople gathered at the bridge for a celebratory ribbon-cutting.

"In my 34 years in office, I've cut ribbons on bridges over the Connecticut River north to Pittsburg," Burton said. "There've been many, many happy occasions!"

Workers said they had appreciated the relatively warm winter.

Bicyclist Paul Hoffmann was on hand, eager to pedal across the now-repaired 266-foot-long wooden Howe truss bridge south of town. Hoffmann said that since he lives only a half-mile away he had heard the thunderous crash of the tractor-trailer slamming into the bridge's upper lateral bracing in June 2010, causing extensive damage.

The uninjured driver apparently relied on erroneous directions on his GPS unit.

The covered bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, turned out to have a number of other structural problems, unrelated to the crash. Although repairs to the accident damage were completed without too much delay — paid for under the trucking company's insurance policy, the bridge had to remain closed to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Samson, aided by Burton, was able to move up the date the bridge was slated for rehabilitation, making the case that it's used by numerous through truckers, plus Vermonters who buy food and other supplies on Main Street and patronize local restaurants.

Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, NHDOT distributed a list of the repairs completed since Jan. 10: spliced 17 out of 112 major diagonal members with one replaced (nominal 7- by 10-inches); spliced nine out of 52 minor diagonal members (nominal 7- by 7-inches); replaced 14 (one-quarter) of the 56 triangular timber blocks; replaced all 112 steel rods (7/8- to 1 3/4-inches in diameter); and replaced 70 (one-third) of the 210 timber deck boards.

The sag has almost disappeared from its roofline.

Photographs of some of the rotten and-or compressed wood pieces and corroded metal were also passed from hand to hand. The next work to be done on the covered bridge is slated for 2018, Clement said. NHDOT has 1,700 employees across the state, with many specialties represented in the Bureau of Bridge Maintenance, ranging from stonemasons to steel- and woodworkers.

Surprisingly, no one had remembered to bring a ribbon, but, fortunately, Caledonian-Record sportswriter Arlene Allin of Lancaster had some orange tape in her car.

Burton used the scissors that, he said, he always has tucked into his car, just in case.

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