NEWFANE -- First, the good news: Arch Bridge apparently is stable enough that no traffic or weight limits are required, at least at this point.
But the bad news is that officials are concerned about the possibility of falling concrete at the bridge, which spans the Rock River in Williamsville. They're planning to remove that loose material, but the town also is sending out a warning to those who may put themselves in harm's way by spending any time under the bridge.
"Since that area is used for summer recreation, we're going to get in touch with (adjoining) property owners and see if we can post some warning signs," Selectboard Chairman Gary Katz said.
State records say Arch Bridge dates to 1900 and was reconstructed in 1934. It is now considered structurally deficient, and a state report last year said the "structure should be considered for rehab in the near future."
The one-lane, concrete Arch Bridge is town-owned. But, given the size and condition of the span, the Vermont Agency of Transportation has received legislative approval to undertake a rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge.
That project, however, may be years away. In a March response to Arch Bridge inquiries from state Reps. Dick Marek, D-Newfane, and Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, a VTrans manager wrote that "we expect that we will have a scoping report to present to the town within six months and be able to progress the project to design within a year."
In the meantime, Newfane officials have responded to a VTrans local-input questionnaire about the project.
Local officials and residents also have been pushing hard for an accelerated construction schedule. There has been no commitment, however, to quickening the project's pace.
"They are trying to move this project along as fast as they can, but it will depend on funding," Newfane Selectboard member Todd Lawley said at a recent meeting.
Lawley, who also serves as Newfane's road foreman, said he met with a VTrans official who said "there is no need to restrict the weight limit" on the bridge.
Added Katz: "The bottom line is that, as ugly as that bridge looks, it's still stable at the moment."
That doesn't mean, however, that there are no safety concerns. Lawley said he was instructed by the VTrans representative to "knock off any loose concrete on the outside of that bridge."
That work is pending; Lawley said there could be some grant funding available, but he also noted that Newfane currently has $25,000 in its capital fund for Arch Bridge repairs.
The Selectboard also has voted to approve sending a letter to adjoining property owners to advise them of the bridge's condition and to "see if we can post some warning signs" at the bridge, Katz said.
The idea is that anyone splashing in the Rock River near Arch Bridge should know that falling concrete is a possibility. Such notification, Lawley said, "at least shows that we are attempting to do something."
"It's our liability if someone gets hurt," he said.
Katz said the town does not intend to tell residents to stay out of the area entirely.
"It would be more of a warning to take proper precautions," he said.
In response to an inquiry about installing protective netting at the bridge, Lawley said he's been advised that such a setup would be expensive and may not hold if large sections of concrete fall.