Taftsville Covered Bridge reopens after Irene repairs completed
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | September 08,2013
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
A large crowd gathers in front of the Taftsville Covered Bridge for Saturday’s long-awaited reopening ceremony. The 189-foot-long bridge was rebuilt after it was heavily damaged by floods from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
David Martin had gone to check on his family’s three horses on River Road not far from the Taftsville Covered Bridge during Tropical Storm Irene and he kept sending back photos of the devastation he was encountering.
Martin’s wife, Tiffany, recalled Saturday that he stopped on the 1836 bridge to take digital photos of the raging Ottauquechee River. Five minutes later, the historic two-span covered bridge was closed due to flood damage.
“I couldn’t see any damage,” Martin recalled Saturday, standing with his wife and two young children, getting ready to celebrate the reopening of the bridge.
“He kept on sending me pictures from the bridge,” recalled Tiffany, who said she feared for her husband’s safety that day in late August 2011.
Saturday, the Ottauquechee flowed low and dark — a sharp contrast to the angry, mud-filled river that came within a couple of inches of the bottom of the bridge two years ago.
Saturday also marked a return to normalcy for the Taftsville community: the restoration of old travel patterns and convenience with the official reopening of the Taftsville Covered Bridge, the second-longest (189 feet) covered bridge in Vermont still in use and one of the oldest.
Only the West Dummerston Covered Bridge at 271 feet is longer. The state’s longest covered bridge, the Scott Bridge in Townshend, at 277 feet, is closed to traffic.
The Taftsville bridge, an important link between four towns, underwent an extensive rebuilding, costing $2.5 million. It had been closed since Irene unleashed her floods on Vermont on Aug. 28, 2011, causing lengthy detours.
At a celebration Saturday morning, the bridge and its sense of community were touted, along with the preservation efforts that kept the west span of the bridge from falling into the Ottauquechee River.
“We celebrate making our community whole again,” said Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, as representatives from Woodstock, Pomfret, Hartford, Hartland and Taftsville — a village within Woodstock — helped snip the ceremonial ribbon.
Hundreds of people posed for a group portrait on the Route 4 side of the distinctive red bridge, and later a parade of different modes of transportation — including horseback and horse-drawn wagon to a fleet of antique cars and trucks — all made the first trip across the rebuilt bridge.
The state had planned to rebuild the bridge even before Irene, said Transportation Secretary Brian Searles, who attended the ceremony.
But Irene forced the state’s hand, and the restoration project finally got under way. It took two years of work, including 11 months of construction.
Scott Newman, the Agency of Transportation’s historic preservation officer, said the west span of the bridge was severely damaged by Irene, and was on the verge of falling into the river.
“It was really sitting on a rock the size of a toaster,” he said Saturday, as people walked the span, marveling at the marriage of old and new timbers.
Newman said that with the reopening of the Taftsville Bridge, the covered bridges damaged by Irene were finally restored. A few bridges may still need some minor repairs, he said.
In all, Newman said, five of Vermont’s 100 covered bridges sustained severe damage. One bridge, in Bartonsville, was destroyed and another, the Bowers Bridge in West Windsor, was swept off its abutments, later repaired and returned to its original crossing.
The approach to the Shrewsbury Covered Bridge was washed away, and the West Arlington Covered Bridge also sustained serious damage. The Quechee Bridge, which is not a true covered bridge since it is a concrete and steel bridge with a wooden top, was also severely damaged.
Jim Ligon, project superintendent for Alpine Construction LLC of Schuylerville, N.Y., oversaw the rebuilding of the Taftsville bridge. Workers used Douglas fir to replace the damaged native hemlock that Salmond Emmons III used back in 1836.
Ligon said the west truss had to be dismantled and rebuilt because it was so damaged after being hit by debris and flood waters.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who once lived in nearby Hartland Four Corners, said he used to include the bridge in his regular runs through the neighborhood.
Searles said that efforts had started years earlier for the Taftsville repair, with former Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., winning a federal earmark of $1.7 million for its restoration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency kicked in $800,000, with the state contributing $340,000 via the Jeffords earmark.
Searles said it would be 2016 before all Irene-related repairs are completed on the state’s roads and bridges.
There are temporary repairs, he said, “but we are a long way from an end to Irene.”