Winter is a great time to build a bridge.
Workers may have to deal with frozen ground, snow, and ice, but there will be less traffic to detour.
That's the major reason Cecil County decided to replace a small bridge on Mechanics Valley Rd.
"We didn't go into this blindly," said Phil Muzik, an engineer with Cecil County's Department of Public Works. "We made several adjustments to lessen the project's impact. We talked to the business owners and the drivers and asked them when the project would have the least impact."
The bridge, over the Little Northeast Creek, carries an average of 4,250 vehicles every 24 hours and 29 percent of those vehicles are trucks.
"That's a really high number of trucks," Muzik said. "Main roads have about 10 percent truck traffic and trucks account for about five percent of traffic on rural roads."
Trucks travel Mechanics Valley Rd. north of Rt. 40 to reach a quarry and an asphalt plant, he said.
The asphalt plant shuts down in the winter and the quarry sees less traffic during colder months. The quarry still operates in the winter, but mainly to fill tractor trailers carrying sand to the Eastern Shore.
Reducing the impact on truck traffic is the main reason the county decided to do the project now instead of waiting for warmer weather.
Other factors also make winter bridge projects possible, he said.
"Because there's not much work in the winter, the bids we get from contractors are more competitive," Muzik explained.
The road will be closed between Rt. 40 and Bouchelle Rd. starting January 11. The bridge replacement project is scheduled for completion by the end of May.
Cars and light trucks can use Bouchelle Rd. to Lums Rd. to get around the construction site. Vehicles weighing 10 tons or more will have to follow the official detour, which will take them over Bouchelle Rd. to Warburton Rd. to Rt. 272 and then to Rt. 40.
The shorter detour will be about 4.6 miles while the longer one will take trucks eight miles out of their way.
Working in cold weather will make the project more expensive to complete, the engineer said.
"We may have to heat the concrete [for the new bridge] so it will cure properly and we are aware weather can hinder the work," he said.
To offset those costs and to make the project move as quickly as possible, the county has authorized the contractor to work 10-hour days.
"They will be able to start earlier in the morning," he said. "Even an hour more a day will make a difference."
The contract also allows the use of pre-cast concrete for portions of the bridge and the use of more stone than dirt in areas that must be filled in.
"We are doing everything we can to reduce the on-site time," Muzik said.
Construction in the stream itself must be completed by early March, because the state restricts work in the stream from March through June.
"We need to get the foundation done before the restriction goes into place," Muzik said.
The existing bridge has no weight limit but is beginning to deteriorate, Cecil County Director of Public Works Scott Flanigan said in a press release. The existing bridge is functionally obsolete because it is not wide enough, Flanigan said.