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Covered bridge bids delayed again, July 4 parade will roll

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

PEPPERELL — Bids for reconstruction of the town’s signature covered bridge, scheduled to be advertised by April 29, have been delayed at least two more weeks, DPW Director and Town Engineer Robert Lee confirmed Wednesday.

The start of construction and the inevitable closure of the bridge has already been delayed past July 4 and the town’s traditional parade, and with this week’s news the parade is even further from any risk of cancellation due to the necessary bridge closure.

Police Chief Alan Davis had advised the Fourth of July Committee that the parade could not take place this year if the bridge was closed, because re-routed traffic would clog Main Street on the day of the parade.

Lee said he has advised Chief Davis of the new timetable.

Word of this latest bidding delay was delivered by Rep. Robert Hargraves (R-Groton) late last week.

Lee said the latest advertising delay is related more to design review than funding. Because the designer — HDR Engineers — has had a large turnover in personnel, Mass Highway wants a separate consultant to conduct the final review, especially considering the “uniqueness” of rebuilding a timber-covered bridge.

The state’s consultant, Fay Spofford & Thorndike, has made comments to Mass Highway regarding the bridge in the past few weeks, but the designer is still awaiting a complete report, Lee said. If the report comes in as planned, bidding for the work contract should take place by the middle of May.

As for state funding, an increase in an engineering cost estimates that took the total to around $4.5 million, caused the delay from February to April, Lee said.

”I’ve been assured that the higher cost estimate will not be a reason for further delays or, even worse, for killing the project,” Lee said. “Obviously the 2007 parade will be impacted by this project, but we should be all set this year.”

The design of the all-wooden bridge, including the load-bearing subsurface of the road, is based on a nearly identical structure designed for the town of Charleton several years ago. Lee said Mass Highway engineers wanted to use as much of that information as possible to save design costs.

”That certainly makes sense,” Lee said. The revised design work also allows Pepperell to receive a structure very close to the original bridge that was replaced in the late 1960s.

The current bridge is a wood-frame cover for a road surface made of vertically-sandwiched wood covered with asphalt. Unlike the new design, the current bridge rests on steel girders. These steel beams are badly rusted, causing the wooden underlayment to bounce up and down under load, resulting in the many patches and roughness of the road surface. Load capacity has been reduced for several years.

Late last year the town acquired a temporary easement across the Nashua River, good for the duration of the project. A four foot-wide temporary bridge will be built for the sole purposes of pedestrian traffic and to support utility lines over the river. There will be no vehicular traffic allowed over the temporary bridge.

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