On October 9, 2023

How much can a bridge really carry? 



Discussion over Hartland bridges capacity continues

By Curt Peterson

Wooden covered bridges are a hallmark of Vermont charm, especially when the backdrop is the glorious changing of the leaves. But for one Hartland farmer, the iconic North Hartland twin covered bridges over the Ottauquechee River represent more challenge than charm.

Kelly Meacham appoached the selectboard to ask for reconsideration of the weight limit on the bridges — both are rated for 5,000 pounds maximum — as they need to transport manure to their fields twice a day, and the bridges would be the most direct route.

“If we cross the bridges with a tractor and loaded manure spreader,” Meacham told selectmen, “we would be overweight by 6,000 to 8,000 pounds.”

The required detour avoid the bridges involves going around a hill and adds quite a bit of extra time.

“And the manure falls out of the spreader on the hill,” Meacham added.

Local Jim Lewandowski is credited with building the newer of the two bridges — the older span is well over one hundred years old.

Selectman Jim Reilly sympathized with the Meacham’s problem, suggesting no professional has ever looked at the underlying trusses to assess an accurate reasonable weight limit, and the bridges might be capable of carrying more than the 5,000 pound advertised limit.

At the subsequent Select Board meeting acting town manager Martin Dole said he was told the newer bridge was built with what’s called “lattice trusses,” and, it was implied, Lewandowski had built his span to match the stated 5,000 pound capacity of the older bridge.

Board chair Phil Hobbie opined that he thought lattice trusses would be stronger than the traditional “rigid” variety, but did not claim to be an expert. Selectman Clyde Jenne said he thought both bridges had lattice trusses, and Selectman Tom Kennedy said he knew Lewandowski and thought he might be more of a timber construction craftsman than an engineer.

The board decided Lewandowski would be the first contact, possibly to be followed up by consultation with an engineer familiar with bridge capacities.

There was agreement the goal of finding a way to expedite transportation of the Meacham’s organic fertilizer was desirable.

“We may be able to help a local small business overcome an unnecessary hardship,” Rielly said.


Correction: in the print edition we incorrectly identified the operator of Lemax Farm in Hartland. The operator’s name is Kelly Meacham, not Kelly Lemax. The editor regrets this error.

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