Two Vt.-NH bridges may be replaced
By Meghan Foley
Keene Sentinel | March 17,2013
Keene Sentinel Photo
This Route 119 bridge is one of two spans connecting Brattleboro and Hinsdale, N.H., that could be replaced under a priority list on the New Hampshire side of the border.
HINSDALE, N.H. — A longstanding project to replace the two bridges connecting Hinsdale and Brattleboro is getting another push this spring.
The Southwest Region Planning Commission, based in Keene. N.H., is putting the bridges on a priority list it will submit to that state’s Department of Transportation in April.
The department then reviews the lists of regional projects and decides which should go into the state’s 10-year transportation improvement plan. The report gives target dates for when roads and bridges will be fixed, depending on funding.
The most recent proposal calls for a new, multimillion-dollar bridge to be built south of the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges on Route 119. The old bridges would be kept for use by pedestrians and bicyclists.
The two Pennsylvania truss bridges, which were built in the 1920s, are considered “functionally obsolete,” said Joshua Mack, principal planner for the commission. Besides being outdated and not meeting current design standards, they’re narrow, and have height and weight limitations, he said.
Hinsdale Selectman Michael Darcy said Hinsdale and Brattleboro are a shared community, and not having an up-to-date bridge over the Connecticut River isn’t good for the viability of both towns.
“We share most everything,” he said. “My family is a great example, where my wife works on the other side of the river, and we live over here. That is the way it is for a lot of people in the area.”
While Hinsdale has its own fire department, it contracts with Rescue Inc. of Brattleboro for ambulance service, and the nearest hospital to the town is Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Darcy said.
In addition, the Hinsdale and Brattleboro fire departments rely on each other for mutual aid, he said.
If the bridges are ever closed, the closest detours, which are miles out of the way, involve going through Chesterfield to the north, or Bernardston, Mass., to the south, Darcy said.
The Anna Hunt Marsh bridge connects Brattleboro to Hinsdale Island, and the Charles Dana bridge connects Hinsdale Island to Hinsdale. Both bridges were rehabilitated in 1988 after Department of Transportation officials reduced the amount of weight trucks were allowed to carry while crossing the bridges, Mack said.
While weight limits were restored after the repairs were made, it didn’t solve all problems, including that the bridges are impassable for trucks carrying loads above the weight limits, or being wider or taller than the bridges, he said.
Donald A. Lyford, project manager for the Department of Transportation, said the 1988 project (the most recent repairs) involved mostly rebuilding the decks of the bridges, and repairing some of the steel underneath. The New Hampshire agency is leaning toward replacing the two bridges with one bridge crossing the southern end of Hinsdale Island, he said.
The project, which has been debated in some form since the early 1970s, had been on the state’s transportation improvement plan since fiscal year 1994, and was first slated to be done in 1998 for $10 million. It was bumped from the state’s recent 2013-22 transportation improvement plan by the Department of Transportation due to lack of funding.
The most recent estimate from the department puts the total cost of bridge construction, preliminary engineering and right-of-way allocations at $36.6 million, according to a September 2012 information packet from the Southwest Region Planning Commission.
Mack said the design of the new bridge would have it go over the railroad tracks on the Vermont side of the river before touching down to form a new intersection with Route 142 south of downtown Brattleboro.
Currently, vehicles have to cross the railroad tracks to come on and off the bridge nearest Brattleboro.
“Vermont and Massachusetts are in the process of upgrading rail to increase passenger train service — and allow for heavier freight loads to pass on that stretch of railroad — making the rail crossing an even greater issue,” Mack said.
New Hampshire won’t be responsible for the whole cost. Vermont will pay for the environmental assessment and the preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition and construction costs on its side of the bridge.