CHAUMONT — The state Department of Transportation will soon replace the bridge that carries Route 12E, in the area where it serves as the village’s West Main Street, over the Chaumont River.
In a virtual public meeting held Wednesday evening, staff from the DOT’s Watertown office explained how the department will replace the aging bridge with a new, more modern and functional span.
Starting in April 2022, the DOT will begin deconstructing the existing bridge in phases and rebuilding a new one in the same footprint. The new bridge will be slightly taller, and wider, than the existing one, but will also feature a number of improvements.
The $18.6 million project will also include a number of improvements in the immediate area on either side of the bridge. The existing fishing access on the northwestern side of the bridge will have a small access road and cul-de-sac added, as well as landscaping and drainage improvements.
The parking area on the north side of Water Street will also be repaved and graded for drainage.
For the bridge itself, the most noticeable change will be to the piers that hold the bridge up. The existing structure has seven spans with six piers holding it up, all made of a large number of steel beams.
Project manager Kent Collier said those are a symbol of an old construction method, and wouldn’t be used today.
“I don’t want to say it’s an ugly bridge, but it’s certainly not the most attractive bridge in the world,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting.
The new bridge will have four spans, supported by three piers made of three or four concrete pillars. The gaps between the pillars will be significantly wider than the existing structure, which Mr. Collier said should help with water traffic.
On the roadway, the shoulders of the new bridge will be much wider than the existing roadway’s shoulders. Currently, they’re only about 3.8 feet wide, when modern road standards call for 8-foot wide shoulders.
The bridge’s sidewalk will also be brought up to modern, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant standards.
The new bridge will also be able to carry heavy traffic again. Since 1996, any vehicles with an R permit, which indicates a particularly heavy vehicle, have had to take a 20-minute detour to cross the Chaumont River, as the bridge cannot carry the extra weight safely.
Built in 1960, Mr. Collier said the bridge was only intended to last 50 years.
“We’re well past the intended lifespan now,” he said.
As DOT crews begin work on the project, traffic will still be able to use the bridge to cross the river. The north side of the bridge will be deconstructed first, and a 12-foot-wide lane on the old structure will be maintained. Vehicles will be able to cross the bridge with an alternating one-way traffic pattern. Temporary traffic lights will be installed at either side of the bridge, and traffic will alternately be allowed to cross.
Residents express concern that fire and EMS services will be across the bridge, and their response could be delayed by the traffic. Mr. Collier and his colleagues at the DOT said emergency services will always have priority in crossing the bridge, but will be delayed slightly no matter what.
Some residents suggested that the Chaumont Fire Department keep equipment in the village during the project, which is expected to finish in September 2023.
The sidewalk that runs along the north side of the bridge will be removed in the first phase of construction. The state DOT will sponsor a shuttle for pedestrians that will drive them across the bridge during the first phase of construction.
“There can be a kiosk at either end, either with the shuttle on-site or with a number to call for it,” Mr. Collier said.
Mr. Collier said the delay in getting a shuttle on-site would be contractually obligated to be below 5 or 10 minutes at any one time, to ensure any pedestrians aren’t kept waiting too long to cross. Once the north half of the bridge is completed, pedestrians will be able to use the new sidewalk to cross.
The bridge currently carries water and sewer lines across the river as well. Those will remain connected throughout the project, and upgraded in the second phase. The DOT will pay to replace a 4-inch sewer force main owned by the village of Chaumont, and the village will pay to upgrade an 8-inch water main as well.
To complete the project, the DOT is using eminent domain to purchase small parcels of land from three properties on the east side of the bridge. The land being purchased comprises small slivers of three homes’ front yards along West Main Street. The state is also securing two temporary easements along the east side as well for construction.
Overall, the highway repaving portion of the project should cost about $5.6 million, the old bridge’s removal should cost about $750,000 and the new bridge construction should cost about $12.6 million. The local governments of the village of Chaumont, town of Lyme or Jefferson County are not responsible for any costs for the project, except for the village’s water main work.