BATH — The reopening of the longest covered bridge located entirely in New Hampshire has been delayed slightly but town officials are happy with both the quality and progress of the work so far.
Begun more than a year ago, the rehabilitation of the one-lane motor vehicle bridge over the Ammonoosuc River between Bath Village and West Bath was expected to be complete by late May or early June, Bath Selectman Alan Rutherford said on Monday, but now that date has slipped to early August.
In working on the bridge — whose length is 374 feet, 6 inches according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, but is listed at 392 feet by other sources — representatives of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, the project engineer, and Wright Construction Co., the general contractor, “found more damage to structural timbers than they expected and they had to order more wood,” said Rutherford.
Rutherford said the future of the bridge has been a point of discussion amongst Bath residents and officials for years. There came a time, however, “when basically it was fix it or close it,” said Rutherford, and the town had to act.
On the NHDOT’s “red list” of spans in structurally poor shape, the Bath Village Bridge “was worse than that,” Rutherford said, adding that before the town committed to any action, it did some homework, including taking a look at building a modern bridge.
“About four, five years ago we had an engineering study to determine if there was a chance of putting in an alternative bridge between the town center and West Bath and they came up with figures that it was going to cost $25 million and there wouldn’t be any state or federal funds,” said Rutherford.
“The reason we’re getting federal funds on this,” he added, “is historical preservation,” which suits the citizens of Bath just fine.
The Bath Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The townspeople would like to see the bridge preserved because it is a big draw to town,” said Rutherford, noting that the bridge is one of three in this community that calls itself “The Covered-Bridge Capital of New England”.
The bridge is also central to east-west traffic flow — folks on the west side have to drive 15 miles to get to the village center, said Rutherford — and to the livelihood of area businesses.
When it re-opens, the bridge will have a six-ton weight limit, said Rutherford. He added that despite the delay, residents will be pleased with the results.
“Once the bridge is open and people see the amount of work that was done, they’ll be very surprised with how much was done,” said Rutherford, adding that he and the selectmen are “very happy with the quality of the work.”
Rutherford said the town got a good deal on the bridge work. Town taxpayers will be picking up only about $130,000 of the $2.9 million construction cost; the lion’s share — $2.3 million — is being borne by the federal government, and the remaining balance by the NHDOT.
Originally built in 1832 for about $2,900, the Bath Village Bridge is the fifth to stand on the site, according to the NHDOT.