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Mapping The Money: After Irene Bridges Built To Withstand Future Floods

VPR/Susan Keese

VPR’s online Mapping the Money project shows that most of the $185 million of FEMA relief money for Tropical Storm Irene was spent on repairing infrastructure. Millions more came from other sources.

The damage included nearly three dozen state highway bridges.

As engineers continue to rebuild them, the bridges are also being redesigned to withstand future floods.

The new Route 30 Bridge in Jamaica is one example.  It will be a single span over Ball Mountain Brook, 130 feet long from bank to bank.

The original bridge was a double span, supported by a pier in the middle of the brook. When the brook became a torrent during Irene, that central support became a trap for enough trees, boulders and debris to form a dam that forced the brook to go around the bridge.

Chad Greenwood is the resident engineer for the new bridge project.

“A lot of debris got caught on that pier,” Greenwood says. “It backed up the water and eventually it eroded enough around the abutment to make the bridge fall down on that one end.”

Greenwood says the new bridge’s design should prevent that from happening again.

“It does not have a pier,” he says. “It just spans the brook. Hopefully it has a big enough opening now to let the debris fall through.”

The bridge will also be set on piles, driven deep into the ground. Greenwood says that should make the abutments on either side less vulnerable.

“So even if there is a little scour,” Greenwood says, “Hopefully the piles will support the bridge.”

The Route 30 bridge is one of two state bridge replacements underway in Jamaica. The other crosses Wardsboro Brook on Route 100.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter says thirty-four state highway bridges were damaged or destroyed in the storm. Six are under construction now; another six will be put out to bid in October.

Minter says that reflects changes the state has made to move bridge projects along faster.

“It’s really impressive for us to be able to get these projects done so quickly,” says Minter. “And it’s because we’ve restructured the way we design and flow a project through our agency, so that we have now what’s called an accelerated bridge program.”

Minter says the bridge over Route 100 in Jamaica uses new construction techniques that will enable it to handle larger volumes of water and debris.

“And that is something we’re doing to make sure the new bridges we built are more resilient” Minter adds, “Because we do anticipate more frequent and severe storms in the future.”

The Route 30 bridge in Jamaica will be named for the late Rick Hube, a long time state legislator from the area who died suddenly in 2009.

Both bridges are expected to open in October.

Interactive Map Of Irene FEMA Funds Distributed In Vermont

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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