Concord solicits proposals to reuse Sewalls Falls Bridge elsewhere

Last modified: 4/24/2014 12:43:28 AM
In the market for a steel bridge?

Concord has one up for grabs. Be warned – it’s a little more than gently used.

The city has asked for proposals from anyone who wants to reuse the Sewalls Falls Bridge, which will be replaced next year with a new 400-foot structural steel girder bridge for about $10 million.

Even when that new span is built, the old red-listed bridge could still have a future, City Engineer Ed Roberge said.

“I think there is a considerable amount of historic value” to the Sewalls Falls Bridge, Roberge said. “We spent a lot of time and effort trying to take care of this bridge and finding a way to salvage it in any way we could. Finding a reuse . . . would be ideal.”

The 100-year-old bridge is fragile, however. Last year, engineers found the one-lane bridge to be safe for passenger vehicles only. Ambulances haven’t been permitted to cross it since August, when its weight limit was reduced to 3 tons.

“Potentially, it could be rescued as a recreational trail bridge or something along that line,” Roberge said.

“It’s not practical to reuse it as a traffic bridge or a vehicle bridge,” he added. Its pieces could also be studied for research, he said.

Approval from the state’s Division of Historical Resources and the Federal Highway Administration was needed to sign off on the plan to replace the historic bridge. Federal money will cover about $8 million, and the city will pick up the remaining 20 percent of the project. In order to use that federal money, Roberge said, the city is required to at least look for a way to reuse the old bridge.

Concord has already begun to “reach out to get this project known, get this bridge known to see if we can find anybody who would be interested in it,” Roberge said.

The city would put what would otherwise be the cost of demolition – about $550,000 – toward any proposal to take down and reuse the structure. Roberge estimated the cost to disassemble the bridge, rather than just knock it down, would exceed that budget by about $200,000. That extra money would have to come from whoever takes the bridge from its current location, he said.

At-large city Councilor Steve Shurtleff, who sits on the city’s heritage commission, said he would like to see a rebirth for the Sewalls Falls Bridge, much like the time a local snowmobile group brought an old bridge from out west and rebuilt it over the Contoocook River for recreational use.

“It has a lot of history, and especially for Concord,” Shurtleff said. “It was designed by a former mayor of Concord and engineer, John Storrs, and it’s often been said that this is the type of bridge that replaced the old covered bridges.”

He also recalled Concord’s historic railroad depot, torn down in 1960.

“It really is a matter of public safety that we have a new 21st-century bridge here, but I think that here in Concord we’ve seen a lot of our history and our heritage destroyed,” he said.

If the city does not receive any interest in reusing the bridge by the end of September, the old tresses will be demolished.

“I’d hate to see it become scrap,” Shurtleff said.

Construction on the Sewalls Falls Bridge will begin next year.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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