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By Lisa Loomis
After meeting with Bridge Street merchants and the project engineer, the Waitsfield Select Board will try to split the Bridge Street project into two phases, one to be done this summer/fall and the other to be done next spring.
Whether that happens or not depends on whether splitting the project into two phases will significantly increase the costs. Voters have authorized the town to borrow up to $75,000 towards the project which includes $475,730 in repairs to the covered bridge and abutments plus $185,137 for work on Bridge Street itself, including repaving it and repairing the stormwater system and retaining wall on Bridge Street.
The project is expected to take a month to six weeks and merchants objected to the timing, which would have had Bridge Street closed in October during foliage season. At the July 14 meeting of the select board, board members heard a proposal to split the project into phases so that the work on the bridge, abutments and retaining wall would take place this fall and the work on Bridge Street would take place next spring.
Work on the bridge will require that the bridge is closed, but Bridge Street can remain open. The work on Bridge Street will require closing Bridge Street and the bridge. Pedestrian access via the bridge will continue throughout the projects.
Town administrator Valerie Capels told the board that project engineer Evan Detrick felt splitting the project was doable and said it was hard to predict how it would affect the bidding process. The project went out to bid at the end of June and bids are due July 31. The town is hosting a pre-bid meeting for contractors and others next Tuesday, July 22, at Waitsfield United Church of Christ. At that meeting contractors will be asked to bid the project as one project and as a two-phased project.
Board members discussed the implications of splitting the project, including closing the bridge twice and its impact on parents taking their kids to school.
"I almost think it would be a good idea to split it. I have concerns about getting Bridge Street blacktopped by fall. If we get bad weather, blacktop people are going to shut their plants down," said select board chair Paul Hartshorn.
Regarding starting the street work in April and concluding it by Memorial Day, which was discussed, board member Scott Kingsbury said, "That's the most ridiculous thing. May is not a reasonable answer. I have concerns about being done in May. The work may not even start until May."
Capels told the board that, according to the engineer, splitting the project could increase the cost, lower the cost or have no impact on the cost. The bridge work will take at least two weeks and will involve noise, heavy equipment and dust. Bridge Street work is estimated to take four weeks and board members discussed whether it made sense to do the projects concurrently to get them completed with less disruption.
"I think it comes down to the cost and what is justifiable. Voters authorized us to spend a specific amount," said select board member Chris Pierson.
"And there will be tax consequences. And we've already asked voters to vote on this twice," he added.
At Town Meeting in 2013 voters authorized the town to spend $50,000 toward the project including burying the power lines when the Bridge Street work was undertaken. That project did not happen in 2013 and at Town Meeting in 2014, after extensive discussion and several votes, voters rejected calls for spending $400,000 to bury the power lines and did approve spending up to $75,000 toward the project.
Ultimately the board decided to ask for bids from contractors both ways and will pursue the two- phase plan if the costs are not significantly different.