The bridge on State Route 31 just south of the village of Poultney, Vermont has been closed indefinitely to vehicular traffic because two severe cracks were found in the bridge in the last two weeks.
The road is a major thoroughfare and the closure was described as a “terrible disruption to a number of people.”
“The State of Vermont inspected the bridge last Monday, May 24 and discovered a significant crack in the chord, located near the gusset plate and propagating upwards, along with areas of advanced deterioration, and recommended that the bridge be immediately posted for a gross load of three tons with appropriate advance warning signage until remedial action can be taken,” Poultney town manager Paul A. Donaldson said via email on June 2.
“Then, the state inspected the bridge again, yesterday, June 1, and found an additional crack in the chord that they did not see during the May 24 inspection and recommended that the bridge be immediately closed to all vehicular traffic.”
There is no timetable for the repair or replacement of the bridge, which is located on State Route 31 (Grove Street and South Street) just south of the village.
“The Poultney Selectboard asks people for their patience and understanding while we work through this issue,” said the “Town of Poultney” Facebook page. “At this time pedestrian and bicycle traffic will be permitted.”
Donaldson said a study done last year deemed the bridge a high priority to have work done but no funds were budgeted for replacement or repairs that year.
“The bridge was identified by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission as bridge priority number two in all of Rutland County in 2020,” he said. “The bridge did not rise to receiving any funding for replacement in the last state budget.”
Donaldson added it’s too early to tell how much repairs or replacement would cost on the bridge constructed in 1923 and renovated in 1975.
“The town has signed detours along State Route 30 through Poultney and Wells, Vermont (and) State Route 149 in West Pawlet, Vermont through the Village of Granville, NY,” Donaldson said. “Currently the town is exploring options. Although it is too early to say what the solution is, some things the town is exploring are: (1) shoring up the deficiencies with the assistance of engineers and contractors to come up with a temporary fix; (2) a temporary bridge; (3) ascertaining from the state a timeline to replace the bridge.”
When asked on the impact of the closure on travelers, Donaldson was blunt.
“This is a major thoroughfare for people in Poultney and people coming to and from NY, so this is a terrible disruption to a number of people,” he said.
One family located at 322 South Street placed a large “not a turn-around” sign in their driveway for those trying to get into the center of Poultney.
An individual who asked to be anonymous said they and their partner’s family were responsible for placing the orange reflective traffic cones in front of the road barriers to prevent people from continuing to drive. The individual said neither the town of Poultney or state workers placed cones in front of the orange-painted barriers.
Kimberly Flynn, who owns K&K Creations Family Hair Care at 336 South Street in Poultney, was devastated by the news for her customers and her 29-year-old business. She was furious to find out via social media that the typical quarter-mile trip from the Poultney Center to K&K will now take 20 minutes because of the detour.
“I am very close to the bridge… I don’t know how they (Vermont state and the town of Poultney) expect people to find me or to get here on roads they have detoured to get here,” Flynn said. “There was no information given to us at this point, other than the words of the community.”
Flynn has already begun contacting customers and clients on making arrangements for future appointments and giving them specific directions on how to get to her business. She said she’s even willing to make maps but doesn’t know where to leave them for customers to locate them.
Flynn mentioned emergency services response times now ultimately becoming delayed and how that could be drastic for a family or individual in dire need.
“Right now, we have no immediate access to rescue and fire,” Flynn said. “Where my neighbors and I are, we would be the longest route for any emergency service to get here.”
The worst news Flynn got was the word on the street in the rumor mill, despite what Donaldson said in terms of a time frame of the closure.
“We’ve been told five years,” she said. “I finally make it through this COVID and this bridge is going to be what takes me out!” Flynn said with a desperate laugh.
The closure has Flynn reconsidering if staying at her location on South Street will allow her to generate enough success and income to stay open.
“It’s almost impossible to figure out if it’s sustainable to stay here or if I need to find something on the other side of the bridge, especially if this takes five years like what’s being said,” Flynn said.
Flynn was brutally honest in her message to the state, as two bridges are now out of service, the other being the Poultney Gorge Bridge primarily affecting Thrall Road and River Street residents, which “has been designed, engineered, and is slated to start April 2022,” according to Donaldson.
“I do hope that the state takes this very seriously,” she said. “The town is practically shut down.”