Like everyone who travels Route 30 to and from Brattleboro, I’ve been watching construction of the new I-91 bridge over the West River for years. The project began in the fall of 2013, when interstate traffic moved onto the southbound bridge and PCL Civil Constructors began dismantling the old northbound span, girder by girder.
Once the old bridge was gone, the new construction seemed to take forever. Curious about why it was taking so long, I joined one of the regular public tours PCL offered each month. It was an education in civil engineering and an introduction into the complexity of what has emerged as a simple-looking and elegant “Bridge to Nature,” as the project’s called. The first year was spent below ground, digging and laying the foundations on either side of the river.
Only once the tons of concrete cured could the piers go up. But a bitterly cold winter followed by high water slowed construction. So it’s been almost four years now, that I’ve been watching the one thousand and thirty six-foot-long bridge take shape a hundred feet above the river. The road was built from each shore using balanced cantilever construction, and late last December, the two sides finally met. Last week, the public was invited to see.
I wasn’t alone. About 800 people boarded busses in Brattleboro, all eager to take in the view despite bone-chilling wind on a single-digit day. Project manager, Caleb Linn, welcomed us to the guided walk, inviting us to talk with any one of the workers wearing safety green spaced at intervals along the yet unstriped roadway. Huddled visitors asked questions of a design engineer, a safety officer, a construction foreman, and several workers who had manned round-the-clock shifts.
One engineer pointed out the expansion plates, built to withstand temperatures from fifty-below to a hundred and thirty above. Another explained how the bridge will carry two lanes in each direction, but is actually wide enough for three. The bitter wind kept my 92-year old dad from joining me, but there were lots of parents with children, including babes in arms. The bridge has a projected lifespan of more than a hundred years, so I can well imagine many people, for generations to come, bragging, “I know someone who walked that bridge.”