BRANDON - The Sanderson covered bridge is no longer covered. In fact, at least temporarily, it isn't even a bridge any more.
As the first step in an $830,000 repair job, the Blow & Cote construction company of Morrisville has used cranes to systematically remove the 160-year-old wooden structure from its Otter Creek crossing on Pearl Street.
According to Brandon Public Works director Bruce Rounds, the work that began Aug. 19 has this month brought the dismantling of the 132-foot bridge's roof, then the siding, then the floor, then the cross-timbers linking the two sides. The sides, known as trusses, are what hold up a covered bridge. The Sanderson Bridge's two trusses known as Town lattices after their inventor, Ithiel Town now lie on their sides by the river where they can be further dismantled.
The bridge was closed in 1987 after a state bridge inspection found serious deficiencies in the timber-framed structure. Among other problems, its metal roofing had ended at the edge of the roof, without any eaves, so that water kept running down the sides and ultimately rotting out key timbers at the bottom of the bridge. Also, the Select Board realized that trucks using the bridge-- even the town's loaded dump trucks doing road maintenance-- were exceeding the statutory 8-ton limit for wooden bridges. The contract for the bridge restoration specifies that it should safely carry 20 tons.
At first, voters decided to save the old bridge as a pedestrian and bicycle crossing, and create a concrete and steel bridge at a new crossing north of the present site. But during a preliminary investigation of the proposed crossing route, state-contracted archaeologists discovered a wealth of Native American remains, which they said should be researched before any road is built. When it became clear that the scientific investigation might add as much as $200,000 to the cost--meaning a $20,000 local share at that time--there was a petitioned re-vote.
The second town meeting chose to rebuild and reinforce the old bridge. The importance of the archaeological site can be seen in the way the Division for Historic Preservation has ordered Blow & Cote to keep their operations out of the cornfield on the north side of Pearl Street, Rounds said.
Artifacts from the first digs were supposed to come to Brandon for a historic exhibit, but are still somewhere in New Jersey, he said.
Among covered bridge preservationists, the idea of beefing up covered bridges to carry 20-ton loads has become controversial. Typically, many of the original timbers are replaced by synthetic materials like glue-laminated boards, or glulam. Rounds said every effort will be made to retain original wood, though most of it will have to be replaced due to extensive damage. There will have to be some glulam, but it will be hidden below the bridge, rather than changing the historic appearance of the structure, he said.
Round said reconstruction of the bridge itself might be completed by January. With other work on foundations and the site, the entire project has a tentative completion date of June 2003.
Adding all the previous expenses to the contract with Blow & Cote, it will cost about $1.2 million to put the Sanderson bridge back in place and remove the temporary steel girder bridge that has connected Brandon and Sudbury for 15 years, Rounds said.
Federal covered-bridge money obtained by Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., had been targeted for the work, but due to scheduling, that money will actually help with other bridges on the Agency of Transportation repair list.
Waiting for 15 years has had one positive effect, Rounds noted. The local share has swung between 10 percent and 5 percent, but now is pegged to be only 5 percent, or $41,500 for this year's work. The Select Board has already allocated money for the project in regular budgets.
[Ed Barna is Author of Covered Bridges of Vermont," Countryman Press, and is on the Board of Directors of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society - Ed.]
April 28, 2003 - Blow & Cote have brought the two lattice trusses of the mostly new Sanderson Bridge to the crossing over Otter Creek in Brandon, and with the help of various cranes have put them in place. The work of tying them together is in progress. There appear to be a number of original timbers, but otherwise this seems to be a case of burning our bridges before we come to them. - Ed Barna
[Ed Barna is Author of Covered Bridges of Vermont, Countryman Press, and is on the Board of Directors of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society.
David Guay is Co-editor of the NYSCBS Newsletter and a member of the VCBS - Ed.]
June 14, 2003 - A handsome new covered bridge stands where the historic Sanderson Bridge [WGN 45-11-02] once stood. A walk though the bridge will reveal that very little of the original remains. Five original web members can be seen on the upstream truss, and six on the downstream side. Of the 13 tie-beams, five are new. Most of the cross bracing appears to be from the original bridge. Except for what is listed above, some of the knee braces and a few roof rafters, the rest of the construction is new southern yellow pine.
BRANDON, July 31, 2003 - The Sanderson Covered Bridge over Otter Creek, a link between Brandon and Sudbury, has reopened for traffic after 14 years.
During the past year, the 163-year-old, 132-foot structure has been overhauled by Blow & Cote Construction Co. of Morrisville. The project has been characterized as more of a bridge replacement than a repair job, with only a few of the original timbers and planks remaining.
Voters decided at town meeting to rebuild the bridge rather than pay the high archaeology costs necessary to establish a new road to a new crossing and a modern bridge. Thus the span has been reinforced with glue-laminated timbers to carry up to 40,000 pounds.
Town Manager Michael Balch said at a Select Board meeting Monday that the posted limit will be 24,000 pounds, but he will issue permits for heavier vehicles to cross as necessary.
Selectman Richard Baker urged that improved signs be posted at the west end, where motorists come upon the single-lane bridge very abruptly. Balch said he would try to get stronger warning signs put up, but said "it really is the state's responsibility."
He said if there is an accident, "we want it to be the state's liability, not the town's."
Some sort of official ceremony will be conducted later to take note of the bridge returning to use after being closed on state orders for 14 years, Balch said.
A temporary bridge, on two large steel girders, has carried traffic during that time.
Balch said the final bill for the work has yet to come from the state, but Brandon will pay 5 percent of $1.2 million to $1.3 million, or $60,000 to 65,000.
Federal money obtained by Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., for covered bridge repairs will cover $450,000 of the cost, Balch said.
Also, the Stone Mill Dam Bridge Road off Route 73 east was reopened following bridge repairs.
[This article first appeared in the Rutland Herald, Rutland, Vt., Aug. 1, 2003. Ed Barna is a member of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society and author of the book Covered Bridges of Vermont, Countryman Press, and - Ed.]