The Bremen Board of Selectmen recently addressed concerns surrounding the Heath Road bridge project, reiterating the safety benefits of replacing the current one-lane bridge with a two-lane structure.
The selectmen met with engineer Eric Calderwood, of Calderwood Engineering in Richmond, on Thursday, April 7, to discuss the project.
The town will have a public hearing on the project at the town office at 5 p.m., Tuesday, April 19.
The project will replace the single-lane Chaney Bridge over Smelts Brook.
Concern has been raised among members of the community about the aesthetic impact of a new and larger bridge on the rural community. The existing span of the bridge is 20 feet, with Calderwood recommending a new bridge with a span of 50 feet.
The width of the bridge would also see an increase, from 16 feet to 20.
Resident Harold Schramm said some of the concern surrounding the bridge project stems from aesthetic concerns regarding the town’s rural character and the new bridge’s potential impact on the quality of life in the neighborhood around the bridge.
For their part, the selectmen said the changes are necessary for public safety, to ensure personal vehicles and emergency responders can cross the brook safely.
Nevins stressed the selectmen’s concern for safety as the motivation for the project on Heath Road and said the possibility of an emergency response on Heath Road necessitates a new bridge to accommodate the town’s emergency vehicles.
“The safety of residents is the most important thing in Bremen for the selectmen,” Nevins said.
Selectman Boe Marsh shared Nevin’s view that construction of the bridge is a pressing matter for the town to address.
“The bridge has had it. It’s shot. We need to build a new bridge,” Marsh said.
Selectman Wendy Pieh said she believes a lot of the questions surrounding the project stem from confusion about proposals for the bridge design.
“I think people don’t understand what the bridge is going to look like. If they are going to object to something, they should object to something that is being planned,” Pieh said.
Calderwood’s proposal for the bridge’s location, approximately 20 feet upstream, is contingent upon the town getting land currently held by a resident.
In lieu of acquiring the property, Calderwood said they would look to shift the alignment as far upstream as possible, while still staying within the right-of-way.
“We would shift alignment in order to stay in the right-of-way, but shift it as much as we can. It would make it difficult to use the bridge as an existing structure during construction,” Calderwood said.
In the event the town is not able to acquire the abutting land, Calderwood said he believes the bridge could be completed quickly, but there would likely be a temporary road closure.
“If we had to do this with accelerated construction, it’s probably possible,” Calderwood said.
Bremen Fire Chief Fern Poland said a response to a fire on Heath Road would likely require a tanker shuttle and the more direct the route the better; Calderwood’s design calls for eliminating a curve near the entrance to the bridge.
“The less clog points we have, the easier it will be to get trucks back and forth,” Poland said.
Calderwood also visited Bremen for a public meeting in January, when he answered questions and inquires from residents in attendance.
During the meeting on Jan. 14, Calderwood recommended replacing the single-lane bridge with a two-lane bridge. He also suggested replacing the current grate with pavement and adding guardrails on each end of the bridge.
Lincoln County Planner Robert Faunce said the design attempts to limit the size and impact on the surrounding households and said he would have supported a wider bridge.
“Anything below 20 feet is a non-starter,” Faunce said.
Faunce also said it is important for the new bridge to provide clamdiggers with access to the brook since the area is important to their livelihoods.
Due to the positive environmental impact of the bridge design for the area’s smelt fishery, the town has received a $95,000 grant from the state to go toward the construction of the bridge.
With the existing bridge, water travels too quickly under the span for smelt to travel upstream.
In addition to benefiting the small fish, Calderwood said, the prospective bridge has been designed to prevent scouring on the joints and abatements of the bridge.
The engineer said the construction will be done right with the goal of building a 100-year structure.