Stefan Hard / Staff File Photo
Autos cross the floating bridge in Brookfield before it was closed by the state over safety concerns.
BROOKFIELD — What some say is the only one of its kind in the country, Brookfield’s floating bridge, may be reconstructed and open by the end of 2014.
At an information session in the town’s elementary school Monday night, the Department of Transportation’s Jennifer Fitch explained what is going to happen next with the one-lane bridge, which is a part of Route 65 and therefore a state highway. Fitch, the project manager, said the department has put the bridge into its budget and is going forward with its replacement.
The bridge was closed in 2008 to traffic and pedestrians because of safety concerns. Fitch said winter ice had punctured some of the floats used to hold the bridge up, causing the roadway to sink.
Fitch said her timeline is for the design to be completed in December. From there, the project will go out to bid and construction will begin in the spring of 2014. Fitch said the hope is to have the new bridge open by fall 2014.
The bridge was built in 1936 and reconstructed in 1978. The Brookfield Historical Society says there has been a floating bridge in the town’s Pond Village since the 1800s. Fitch said this new bridge should have a life of 100 years.
The new bridge, 318 feet long and 22 feet wide, will be composed of five to seven modules, Fitch said. If one of the pieces is damaged, it can be unhooked from the bridge and brought on shore to be repaired, something not possible with the current bridge. Each module will have two pontoons, side by side, made up of a 1-inch-thick fiber-reinforced polymer and filled with a “closed cell” foam that will keep water out even if the pontoon is punctured.
The new one-lane bridge will have sidewalks on each side that are 5 feet wide, instead of the current 3 feet, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Fitch said the latest estimate of the cost is $4.7 million. Of that, 80 percent will be covered by the federal government, and the remaining 20 percent, or $940,000, would be the responsibility of the state. The cost had originally been estimated at about $2 million by the department, but Fitch said that was more of a target than an actual analysis of the price.
Since the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 has not been released yet, it is unclear if the Department of Transportation is seeking funding of the state’s full share this year or spreading the cost over two years since the bridge is not expected to be completed until fiscal year 2015.
The project “is one that has been in planning for quite some time and is supported by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and will likely get some funding in the near future,” said Secretary of Transportation Brian Searles in a statement. “This scenario could be complicated by the current state transportation fund shortfall, but the Legislature will be working on this problem over the next few months and the fate of the entire transportation capital program will be clearer after the Legislature completes its work.”
Searles added it was good news the “iconic” bridge is on track to being rebuilt.
Select Board Chairman John Benson said he’s concerned about funding for the bridge since it has to go through the Legislature.
“There is always a competition for dollars,” he said.
Benson said a majority of townspeople see the bridge as an “essential element” of Pond Village and repairing it is important to maintaining the cultural aspects of the village.
Perry Kacik is on the board of directors for the Brookfield Historical Society. He said that because the bridge is a historical landmark, the replacement is required to look like the old bridge. The new bridge will also be able to take larger vehicles, as Kacik said the load limit has been doubled to 12 tons. He said this will allow ambulances to use the bridge.
Kacik said the floating bridge is not only the east-west connector for Pond Village but also a popular tourism destination, being the only one of its kind in the country. Kacik said there are two other floating bridges in the United States, but they are on the West Coast and have multiple lanes of traffic as part of Washington state’s interstate system.
He is glad the bridge will be rebuilt because in the summer, a trip that would take a couple of minutes over the bridge instead takes 20 minutes to go around the pond. The bridge is closed in the winter because the wooden roadway cannot be plowed.
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