LACONIA — The bridge replacement project that will create an 18-mile detour focuses on the rehabilitation of the railroad bridge that lies about 300 feet north of the bridge over the Weirs Channel. The front-page article appearing in the Nov. 9 edition of The Laconia Daily Sun misidentified the project as involving the nearby bridge over the channel.

That much-larger bridge over the water may get some rehabilitation, according to City Councilor Bruce Cheney, chair of the three-member commission working with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to see that public safety issues are addressed. Councilor Bob Hamel, who also serves on the commission, has asked the state to look into the sidewalks on the bridge, which are starting to break down.

“They are not committed to fixing those, but said they would look into it,” Cheney said.

Jeff Thurston of Thurston’s Marina was one of about 20 people who attended a public hearing last Monday, and his concern was about the detour that would be in force during the 30-day deck replacement project over the railroad bed.

He pointed out that the 18-mile detour is actually a 36-mile round-trip detour for someone living on Tower Hill who wants to go to the Weirs Post Office across the channel. It also will make it difficult for his employees to get to work if they live on the wrong side of the bridge.

At the same time, Thurston said he came away from the meeting with the opinion that the state was “very professional” in the way it is handling the project.
“I’m encouraged by the DOT’s serious commitment to address the timeframe and expediency,” he said.

The state plans to put the project out to bid in the fall of 2019 and have the work begin in the spring of 2020. The window for the project is between March 15, when snowmobilers no longer will be allowed to access the tracks, and May 15, when the trains start running. By closing the bridge to traffic, the state anticipates being able to complete the project within 30 days of commencement, with the weather being a determining factor for when it begins.

The 30-day period could be shortened if the bridge crew works longer days and includes weekends. Joe Adams, the project manager for the DOT’s Bridge Design Division, said in an email that the department has allowed contractors to work between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., including Saturdays and Sundays, on similar projects.

Thurston said that, during the hearing, the state also suggested that the bridge could be reopened as soon as the precast concrete deck sections are in place, before the sidewalks and guardrails are completed.

The abutments for the bridge — mostly granite blocks with some concrete — are stable, so they will need little rehabilitation, Adams said. The deck slab, however, is deteriorating due to the increased weight of vehicles, road salt, and sulfur from the coal-fired trains. The poor condition has the bridge placed as number 28 on the state’s Bridge Priority List.

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