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Pioneer Street Bridge

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The curious history of the Pioneer Street Bridge 

Written by Michael Quiet

Probably one of the more interesting stories about a bridge in Vermont belongs to this structure, as it has had a curious path since its replacement was announced in 2001, and almost a decade and a half later its fate has yet to be decided.

Built as a typical post-1927 flood bridge, this bridge served until 2001 when severe deterioration of the floorbeams forced its closing. Replacement was opted for, but a group of citizens formed the "Friends of the Pioneer Street Bridge" to save the bridge, arguing that the cost of rehabilitation was still reasonable. The state highway department had already designed and had fabricated the stringers for the replacement bridge and felt that it wouldn't be logically or financially feasible to not replace the bridge. With a demolition date planned, the Friends of the Pionner Street Bridge sued the state for an injunction against the demolition.

The court motion was introduced in June of 2001, but before a final ruling could be handed down the September 11th attacks occurred, which caused a backlog in the courts. Realizing that the case wouldn't be heard before the scheduled demolition, and perhaps related to the national climate at the time, the group decided to withdraw its case.

An alternative that had been on the table since the late 1990's when the first thoughts of replacing the bridge occurred was an adaptive reuse. At the time the towns of Montpelier and Barre were considering a joint recreation path, utilizing the inactive rail line between the cities (which the New England Central Railroad had abandoned in 1999) and this bridge could be used to span the Winooski River. In one of the early accomplishments of the Vermont Historic Bridge Program the truss was retained and cut in half, and put into storage.

Fate again intervened in the plan though, as the new owner of the rail line (the Vermont Railway) decided to reactive the rail line and operate it as the Washington County Railroad (which is still does so to this day). With the collapse of the plan, the town of Barre proceeded on its own independent recreation path and Montpelier eventually built one as well, leaving the bridge without a purpose.

The bridge continues to sit in its storage area, the 4 sections of the cut up truss stacked on top of each-other. There have been occasional mentions of connecting the two towns recreation paths and thus utilizing this bridge for its intended purpose, however it seems unlikely these plans will materialize any time soon.

Facts 

Overview
Pratt through truss bridge over Winooski River on Pioneer Street
Location
Montpelier, Washington County, Vermont
Status
Replaced by a new bridge. Trusses cut up and put into storage
History
Built 1929 by Palmer Steel Co.; Disassembled and put into storage 2002
Builder
- Palmer Steel Co. of Springfield, Massachusetts/Holyoke, Massachusetts
Design
Pratt through truss
Dimensions
Length of largest span: 141.1 ft.
Total length: 145.0 ft.
Deck width: 20.0 ft.
Approximate latitude, longitude
+44.25072, -72.55932   (decimal degrees)
44°15'03" N, 72°33'34" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
18/694854/4902616 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Montpelier
Inventory number
BH 61429 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection (as of 08/1990)
Deck condition rating: Serious (3 out of 9)
Superstructure condition rating: Serious (3 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
Appraisal: Structurally deficient
Sufficiency rating: 4.0 (out of 100)
Average daily traffic (as of 1989)
5,250

Update Log 

  • October 7, 2015: Updated by Michael Quiet: Corrected truss type, this was a Pratt through. Fixed typos and added builder & current status: Bridge is not lost.
  • June 17, 2014: Added by Luke Harden

Sources 

  • Luke
  • Michael Quiet - mquiet [at] gmail [dot] com