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January 27. 2013 10:21PM

Bath covered bridge closes for restoration


Plastic sheathing has been hung along the length of the Bath Covered Bridge in preparation for a major construction project that will rebuild much of the pre-Civil War structure. At 392 feet, the bridge is the longest wooden covered bridge among the 54 that stand entirely within the state of New Hampshire. The bridge further south across the Connecticut River between Cornish and Windsor, Vt., for example, is longer. The Bath bridge spans the Ammonoosuc River, and is scheduled to close today for a year. (BOB HOOKWAY PHOTO)

BATH - The town is preparing for the much-needed $2.9 million construction project that will restore its historic covered bridge, a landmark that predates the Civil War.

But residents west of the Ammonoosuc River and businesses in Bath Village are also bracing for today's scheduled bridge closing. For the next year, drivers wishing to go to Woodsville and points south, or to head north toward Lisbon and Littleton, are in for longer and more complicated trips over back roads.

The shortcut that also brings snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle traffic off the trails, across the 1832 span and directly into the village, will be out of commission until sometime in 2014.

While the need to rehabilitate the aging structure for safety, structural and cosmetic reasons is clear, the bridge's absence will be felt, by some more than others.

"It's not going to help sales, that's for sure," said Jim Lusby, as he cut and wrapped blocks of cheese Thursday behind the counter of another historic landmark, the Bath Brick Store.

"People on the other side of the bridge are going to have to go all the way around."

The store has long been a stop on the tour bus route, and that won't change, especially during next fall's foliage season. But the bridge closing will, for the next year, halt the considerable east and west daily vehicle traffic over the one-lane bridge. That includes the snowmobilers and ATV'ers who usually arrive via the bridge right on the doorstep of the Brick Store and several other businesses in the village on Route 302.

At 392 feet, the Bath bridge is the longest among the 54 wooden covered bridges that stand entirely in New Hampshire, according to Sean James, project manager for Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, the Manchester engineering firm in charge of the rehabilitation. The interstate bridge across the much wider Connecticut River between Cornish and Windsor, Vt., for example, is longer.

This will be the most extensive work on the bridge since the 1980s. Although the closing has been postponed a couple of times, James said last week he expects traffic to be shut off today.

"As far as I know, we're all set," he said.

The siding has already been removed and replaced by temporary plastic sheathing which has been hung on the sides both to keep construction debris from falling into the water, and to protect the workers, at least somewhat, from the biting wind that blows along the river.

The deck, now spruce, will be replaced, largely with Douglas fir, James said. The wood in various sections of the bridge will be "sampled and tested" he said, to determine where replacement is necessary. The roof and its trusses will be replaced, as will the floor beams. The construction must be in keeping with federal specifications; the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is overseeing things, and Wright Construction Co. of Mount Holly, Vt., is the general contractor.

The project's price tag of nearly $3 million is a far cry from the $2,900 it cost to build the bridge early in the 19th century. The federal government will cover $2.3 million of that amount; the state's bridge program will provide $464,000, leaving town taxpayers a $136,000 bill.

A discussion of what's "original" regarding the old bridge can be tricky, since the span, according to a history of the town, is the fifth to stand at that spot on the Ammonoosuc.

The first bridge was built there in 1794, and destroyed by flood and replaced in 1806. Floods also claimed the bridge and its replacement in 1820 and 1824, respectively, before the present structure was built.

bhookway@newstote.com


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