WEST CORNWALL — Repair to Cornwall’s covered bridge is expected to begin the end of next week and will take a several days to complete, according to Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation .
The tentative dates for the repair work are July 27-29. It will be night work, scheduled from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“There will be temporary short-term closures of approximately 15 minutes for the repairs to be done, tentatively scheduled for two nights of activity,” Nursick said.
The one-lane wooden bridge, which dates back to the Civil War, was closed for several hours Tuesday after a towed excavator damaged it. The bridge is now fully open and safe to pass through.
State police said a pickup truck that was towing an excavator on a trailer drove through the bridge, and the excavator boom collided with the top of the span . DOT crews have since removed debris from the roof and bridge roadway.
According to Nursick, state police issued citations to the driver.
According to the state police accident report, John Hunter, 23, of Falls Village, was driving westbound while towing a trailer with a bobcat excavator on it.
He became distracted by looking at the rising water of the river below when he disregarded the height limit signs in place before the Cornwall Bridge, the report said. As he proceeded under the bridge, the arm of the excavator struck the overhanging portion of the covered bridge, the report said.
The bridge gets damaged by a vehicle approximately once a year, Cornwall First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said.
Usually, however, the damage isn’t as bad as it was Tuesday, he said .
“Normally, what happens is somebody gets stuck in there and then they have to let the air out of their tires and then they back the truck out,” he said.
He did note however, “We’ve seen somebody flip a jeep over inside the bridge.”
Photos of the damaged bridge on Facebook garnered lots of reaction from area residents. One post had more then 70 comments — with some expressing frustration and others, sadness.
Town resident Iris Hermann told Hearst Connecticut Media, “We Cornwallians love our bridge and it’s an absolute tragedy that someone ran into it again.”
At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Ridgway said, the state DOT reminded people that when they say the height of the bridge is posted, to take that seriously.
“It’s too bad when this happens because it ties up traffic and causes substantial bills to be paid by people that probably didn’t mean to do what they just did,” Ridgway said. “I’m glad DOT responded so quickly and got things moving again.”
The DOT has taken preventative measures for the safety of the bridge, such as posting multiple signs indicating vehicles are limited to a height of 10 feet, 11 inches.
“There are clear signs on the immediate approach from each direction of the bridge that indicate the restrictive height and there are also signs on Route 7 north and south, ” Nursick said. “There is also a warning bar on both approaches that would help to indicate to an overheight vehicle that they are in fact over height.”
Additionally, there is another sign on Route 4 indicating a low clearance bridge.
In order to drive commercial vehicles, drivers should be aware of the height of their load, Ridgway said.
The cost of repairing the damage is not yet known.
“That will take some time,” Nursick said. “There are a variety of processes that need to take place in terms of materials and hours. We are going to make sure we have everything accounted for before we pursue actions necessary to get recompensed for it.”
According to Nursick, the driver did not cause any structural damage to the bridge — only aesthetic damage. This included some ceder siding and several wooden 4-by-4 cross members. Additionally, a West Cornwall sign on the East Gable end was damaged.
The bridge spans 172 feet across the Housatonic River and is listed on the national register of historic places, according to the state tourism website. The one-lane bridge carries traffic along Route 128 and has been in continuous service since it opened in 1864.
Nursick said this kind of incident has happened previously on other bridges as well.
“There are a number of bridges in the state that have restricted overhead clearances and they do, from time to time, get struck. The signage and markings with all of those structures is abundantly clear for any driver that is remotely paying attention to the task at hand,” he said. “There is really no excuse for it, but it does happen.”