CAMPTON — Despite rain, sleet, freezing temperatures and the occasional high water, the repair and renovation of the historic Blair Bridge is proceeding well with officials hopeful that the span over the Pemigewasset River will re-open this spring as expected.
Originally built in 1829, the Blair Bridge is a covered, wooden bridge that connects Route 175 in the east and Route 3 in the west. According to the state Department of Resources and Economic Development, the bridge is 292 feet and 10 inches long, is 20 feet, two inches wide; has a maximum vertical clearance of 13 feet, three inches and can support vehicles of up to three tons in weight.
The town-owned bridge was initially erected at a cost of $1,000 but years later it was burned down by an arsonist. Rebuilt in 1870, it was rebuilt again in 1977, at a cost of $59,379 by Milton Graton and his son, Arnold.
In August 2011, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the bridge was impaled by a large pine tree that floated down the Pemigewasset and was repaired, but town leaders were also looking toward long-term improvements that began last summer and which will ultimately cost about $2.5 million.
Campton Town Administrator Ann Marie Foote on Wednesday said the state Department of Transportation has tried to convince the town to replace the Blair Bridge with a modern one made of concrete and steel, but the idea was rejected because of the affinity the locals have for the structure.
Arnold M. Graton Associates is leading the effort to once more rehabilitate the Blair Bridge.
Although the state DOT would prefer to see a different style of bridge, Foote said the agency was extremely helpful in assisting the town to get the current bridge onto the National Register of Historic Places, which then helped the town to leverage funding opportunities.
Of the total project cost, the majority will be paid by the federal and state governments, while Campton taxpayers will pick up about $200,000.
"This is a complete replacement of abutments, siding the roof, and fixing the ramp approaches. They're basically taking the whole bridge apart; it's fascinating," said Foote.
She explained that one of the first steps in the process was to place an "Acrow" bridge, essentially a rigid metal frame, within the existing bridge to prevent it from collapsing into the river below. The Acrow bridge may be removed by the end of this week, she added, and it's a good thing too, because renting it costs almost $13,000 a month.
"Our goal is to preserve as much of the original as possible," said Foote, while replacing everything else that is structurally vital. The new bridge will have a new roof, deck, piers and abutments, "scour protection," a fire-detection and protection system, as well as new pavement on its approaches and it will be accessible to vehicles weighing up to five tons.