Dorset Street bridge reopens with a weight limit

“Sixteen tons and what do you get?” asks a song Merle Travis wrote and Tennessee Ernie Ford made famous.

A relatively fat fine, if you drive a truck that heavy across the Dorset Street bridge — might be the response the Charlotte Selectboard would sing if they formed a country band. In fact, any truck weighing over 15 tons could get you a fine for driving over the bridge between Carpenter and Hinesburg roads after the board’s meeting this Monday, May 8.

The selectboard voted unanimously to lower the weight limit for the temporarily repaired bridge, which was closed since April 25 after a hole was discovered in it.

Photo by Scooter MacMillan The bridge on Dorset Street between Carpenter Road and Hinesburg Road needs major structural repair work and is closed..
Photo by Scooter MacMillan
The bridge on Dorset Street between Carpenter Road and Hinesburg Road needs major structural repair work and is closed..

On the previous Monday, the selectboard had held a special meeting, called to address the Dorset Street bridge issue. At that meeting, the board voted to approve spending not more than $23,000 for Parent Construction of Hinesburg to make the temporary fix.

“It doesn’t get any better than that. That actually took about one week, so this goes down in the record as the fastest repair we’ve ever done,” said chair Jim Faulkner after road commissioner Junior Lewis shared the news that the bridge had reopened earlier that day.

He also gave props to Lewis for saving the town $1,700 by negotiating for a used 1-inch piece of steel to make the temporary repair.

In a phone conversation, Lewis said the bridge was repaired with steel sheets that were paved over. He said the bridge looks “pretty sound” now.

The weight limit was imposed to cut down on wear and tear on the temporary fix. The fine for exceeding that limit could be in the thousands of dollars, Lewis said, and would be based upon how much over the limit a truck is. The fine is set by the state.

Signs warning of the weight limit will be posted at Carpenter Road and Dorset Street, at Hinesburg Road and Dorset Street, and on both sides of the bridge.

Kevin Marshia, director of asset management for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said sometimes such temporary repairs may be good for 10-15 years or even longer.

Although there is a good bit of deterioration in the concrete structure with some exposed rebar in the Dorset Street bridge, Marshia said this kind of deterioration unfortunately is not unusual on Vermont’s bridges. Among other things salt spread on snowy roads contributes to bridges’ declining.

The almost 90-foot bridge over the LaPlatte River was originally built in 1939 and reconstructed in 1960, according to state records.

The bridge is one of six in Charlotte the town is responsible for maintaining, three concrete and three covered, Lewis said.

Vermont is responsible for any bridges on state roads and the only state road in Charlotte is Route 7.

The selectboard is hoping to get federal funds that are dispensed by the state to help pay for a permanent fix of the bridge, but it will be a while before the town can get those funds — if it can. The deadline for applying passed April 15, so it will be another year before Charlotte can apply.

“There are limited funds that come through the Federal Highway Administration,” Marshia said. “The needs outpace the funding. It’s a competitive process.”

There are 4,000 bridges in Vermont, and the state inspects both town and state bridges annually.

There are smaller grants of up to $200,000 that the state of Vermont gives for such projects, but that is a small part of what the eventual fix will probably cost. Marshia said it was impossible for him to give a round estimate of what the bridge fix might cost. That kind of figure will have to wait until there’s been an engineering study.

Getting on the capital program for federal funds to get the bridge permanently rebuilt will probably take at least four-six years, he said.