Heavy equipment will once again be heading into riverbeds as the road sections that were repaired in a rush after Tropical Storm Irene are rebuilt. This time, however, as the Agency of Transportation constructs permanent infrastructure, state officials assured critics that serious planning and inter-agency consultation has gone into the process, and activities in the riverbed will be limited as much as possible.
“None of this is a surprise,” said Justin Johnson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, in a press conference Tuesday. “It was pretty rough and ready, trying to get roads back open” after Irene.
The Federal Highway Administration fully expected that some of the repair work would need to be redone, said Chris Cole, the Policy, Planning, and Intermodal Development director at the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).
This past fall and spring, multi-disciplinary assessment crews from VTrans and the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) visited each of the 682 road sections that were repaired after Tropical Storm Irene. They determined what kind of work was needed and which agencies and areas of expertise would be necessary to restore — or even improve beyond pre-Irene conditions — the integrity of both the roads and the rivers and streams for the long term.
The Army Corps of Engineers, Vermont Fish & Wildlife, and VTrans will all be involved in making decisions about when and how to alter the river channel, said Johnson.
The press conference was held at an unnamed bridge over the Third Branch of the White River, where a slab of asphalt on one end of the bridge was washed away in the floods, as well as some of the road upriver. Multiple hues of rip-rap and gravel are now visible next to the bridge and along the river.
Some of the rip-rap and gravel was used for immediate repairs because it was the only material available, but it is too small and would be washed away in the next major flood.
“Everything was in short supply,” said Todd Menees, a river management engineer with ANR.
Changing the size of the gravel will prevent the road and bridge from being undercut (which would require more costly repairs), while also allowing transportation engineers to shape the stream channel for fish habitat and erosion control.
“People don’t believe me when I say what’s good for the road is good for the fish is good for the budget,” said Menees.
At this particular bridge, VTrans officials said the meander of the river would be restored so that the river would slow down as it came around the bend, thereby slowing erosion. This would also restore a deep pool where fish could gather.
Design work has begun on many of these road sections, but no repair work yet. Cole said that 80 percent of the work remaining on the redo sites will be done by the regional VTrans operations departments. Officials stated the repairs would withstand conditions similar to those produced by Tropical Storm Irene.
ANR Fisheries Biologist Chet McKenzie said that although the sampling season has only just begun, it appears that fish populations were harmed where dredging occurred after Irene.
As for cost, Cole said it’s “too premature” to know what these repairs could amount to. They range in cost and complexity from repairing guardrails to replacing slopes and road sections.