LACONIA — The commission established to review the New Hampshire Department of Transportation plan to replace a red-listed bridge just north of the Weirs channel is recommending shutting down the road, which would require an 18-mile detour, but it hopes to shorten the period the bridge is closed.
City Councilor Bruce Cheney, chair of the three-member commission appointed by the governor to review the DOT plan, said their purpose was to review the public safety issues posed by the bridge work.
When the state came to the city with its plan in 2015, it offered two options: full closure of the Endicott Street Bridge, which would require the detour, or keeping one lane open, which officials predicted would cause major traffic backups for an extended period of time.
Cheney said a one-lane closure would extend the project to a minimum of 120 days, while detouring traffic around the bridge would allow the state to complete the project in 30 days.
The bridge work would be put out to bid in the fall of 2019 and construction would begin in the spring of 2020.
“If the work started in April,” Cheney said, “if one lane were closed, that would take it into the summer, and Motorcycle Week and the Fourth of July would be impacted. If the bridge were closed for 30 days, and construction didn’t start until May, it would be done in time for Motorcycle Week.”
He said the commission was cognizant of the impact a detour would have on travelers and the local businesses, but the members felt a traffic tie-up would hurt even more. Additionally, many businesses in The Weirs do not open until late May.
“A detour would be annoying,” Cheney said, “but at the same time, tying up traffic in the busiest season of the year would be equally annoying.”
During a public meeting with the DOT and abutters earlier this week, the commission suggested a way to potentially shorten the closure: Instead of working five eight-hour days, they suggested having the crew work 12-hour days on Monday-Saturday.
Some attending the meeting went even further, suggesting 24-hour-a-day work, seven days a week.
The meeting also outlined a plan to provide for emergency vehicles to get across the channel. The plan calls for a temporary road entering through the Weirs Drive-In and passing through the Thurston property to a temporary structure over the railroad tracks. Access would be limited to police, fire, ambulance, and other emergency vehicles.
Cheney said they also suggested having some form of electronic gate that could be opened remotely.
“I said it will take locals about eight and a half minutes to figure out this workaround and use it,” he said of the temporary access road. “They said they understand they’ll have to do something to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Pat Baldi, who owns the drive-in, had concerns about the access road crossing her parking lot and said water tends to well up through the lot during the spring. Because the project is a year away, the state will be able to take a look at the problem this spring and deal with any issues that exist, Cheney said.
The project would require the temporary taking of a portion of the abutting properties to provide the emergency access, but the state has agreed to restore the property to its former state after the bridge work is complete.
“There’s a social and economic impact to the project,” Cheney said, but to create the least impact, the commission voted that “the least-abusive process was to do the 30-day closure,” Cheney said.
The Endicott Street Bridge was placed on the state’s Red List in 2009 and currently is number 28 on the Bridge Priority List.
Joe Adams, the project manager for the DOT's Bridge Design Division, said in an email that initial research in 2015 placed the date of the split stone portion of the abutment at around 1900. More recent information put its construction at 1848, he said.
In 1933, the concrete sections of the abutment and wing were added to the 1848 abutment, and a new concrete superstructure was placed on top.
Adams said both the 1848 and 1933 sections of abutment have proven to be very stable and are worth reusing with a little rehabilitation. However, the increased weight of vehicles, road salt and sulfur from the coal-fired trains have taken a toll on the deck slab to the point that it needs to be replaced.
"We are fortunate that the substructure can be reused because that reduces the scope of the project and greatly reduces the impacts to the surrounding area," Adams said.
Once the department gets all of the permits and approvals to proceed, it will obtain health and safety equipment, order materials, set the schedule, install environmental and railroad protection, install temporary emergency vehicle access, put in the construction and detour signs, confirm that all utilities have been moved, and verify that all the equipment and materials are on site.
"Once all approvals, protections, signage and equipment are in place, construction can start," he said.
The project will begin with the removal of the concrete deck slab, then clean and level the top of the abutment. He said they plan to use precast elements to save time.
Adams said the state will do appraisals and negotiate agreements with abutters for the emergency access road, and he confirmed the state's intention to provide either a keyed or electronic gate access to prevent local traffic from using the emergency detour route.
"No decision has been finalized yet on work hours," he said, "however, for projects similar to this, during the bridge closure period, we have allowed the contractor to perform work between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., including Saturdays and Sundays.
"Additionally, our intent is to provide a clause into the contract to provide the contractor additional incentive to having the bridge open within the 30-day closure period. For each calendar day the project, or portion of the project, is completed before or after the date established in the contract, payment will be increased or decreased by an established amount," he said.
As to weather delays, Adams said, "Generally, no allowance will be given to the contractor for unfavorable weather or ground conditions. Our experience has been that contractors will put whatever resources are available to have the bridge open within the given time frame."
While the bridge is closed, drivers at Weirs Beach looking to get to the other side of the channel would have to take Rollercoaster Road to Route 106 to Elm Street, then up Union Avenue to Route 3 (Weirs Boulevard).