Friday, February 6, 2015

Babb's covered bridge repair set for spring - By Walter Lamb

After a meeting on Tuesday between DOT officials and members of Windham and Gorham’s legislative delegations, it was determined that Babb’s Bridge on Covered Bridge Road would not be fixed until spring at the earliest.
Babb’s covered bridge, closed to traffic recently due to damage caused by a hit and run driver as well as time and weather. The decision to wait until the snow was gone before attempting to repair the bridge made at a meeting in Augusta on Tuesday. The meeting was requested by Senator Bill Diamond and Representatives Mark Bryant and Patrick Corey after learning the State would not restore thru-traffic until spring. All said the delay was unacceptable. Representative Amy Volk from Gorham was also in attendance. “Having three people there from DOT, including their bridge maintenance guy, shows they’re doing their due diligence,” said Corey.

The fix will involve staging on the outside of the bridge and with the snow, repairing it now would be really hard, according to Corey. The repairs the DOT and the delegation spoke about at the meeting will not historically accurate. 

“What I really want is to get the bridge so it works,” said Diamond. Diamond added that getting the bridge safe to use is the first priority then there will be time to work with the town, DOT and the historical societies in both communities to do historical restoration. 

“I was pleased with their attitude,” said Diamond, who said the weather would be the determining factor when it comes to when the repairs begin. “It will be a couple of months.” 

Once repairs have started it should take between four and five weeks to complete the project.  
Close to 300 cars cross Babb’s Bridge every day, according to Diamond. Commuters in the area now have to detour to other points that cross the Presumpscot River. The damage, involving a support post on the Windham side, rendered the structure unsafe for vehicles but not in danger of collapse, according a state engineer. “It’s not a novelty bridge,” said Diamond.

Diamond said a related issue pertaining to the future of the historic span was also discussed. Local historians and other supporters of preserving historic construction practices have expressed concern over so-called “patchwork fixes” on the walls and roof of the bridge, fearing the approach might promote further deterioration and loss of its historic appearance. “There was no talk of taking it out of service,” said Diamond, after Tuesday’s meeting. 

The current bridge was built as a replica of the original span (ca. 1864) following its destruction by arson in 1973. Rep. Bryant said he has requested the legislative law library investigate the precise language of legislation, drafted after the fire that laid out the monitoring and cost obligations of all parties involved in the rebuilding. 

Windham Historical Society member Gary Plummer said “the covered bridge is an integral part of the histories of Windham and Gorham,” and remembers the dedication and hard work of people from both communities who committed to restoring the span as an exact replica, despite protests from the state that such an approach was too costly. Volunteers from both towns held fund raising events and helped in the planning and construction.

Plummer addressed the Windham Town Council on Tuesday. “It will cost $173,000 to bring it back to the 1976 level. The roof is the most pressing to keep the weather out. It would cost $55,000.” The costs to the bridge renovation ultimately fall to the state, said Plummer. 

Babb’s Bridge is only one of nine covered bridges left in Maine. New Hampshire and Vermont both have approximately 100 left.

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