NH officials turn to legislators for new bridge to Brattleboro
By Meghan Foley
THE KEENE Sentinel | April 10,2013
HINSDALE, N.H.— Selectmen in Hinsdale have turned to area legislators in the hopes that they might be the key to the town getting a new bridge to Brattleboro, Vt.
State Sen. Molly M. Kelly, D-Keene, and state Reps. William Butynski, D-Hinsdale, Paul S. Berch, D-Westmoreland, Lucy M. Weber, D-Walpole, and Tara A. Sad, D-Walpole, met with town and school officials Monday night to discuss how they might get a proposed project to replace the two bridges connecting the two towns back on the state of New Hampshire’s radar.
“We’ve been trying for quite some time to get this project going, but it keeps getting knocked off the state’s 10-year plan, put back on, or ending up in various states of unknown,” Hinsdale Select Board Chairman Michael J. Darcy told legislators.
Board members want to do everything they can to keep the project moving forward, he said.
“We feel having these bridges replaced is important for our safety, people being able to get to their jobs, and our economy,” he said.
The project, which has been in the works since the early 1970s, calls for a new, multimillion-dollar bridge to be built south of the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges, which cross the Connecticut River. The two Pennsylvania truss bridges, which were built in the 1920s, connect Hinsdale to Hinsdale Island, and then Hinsdale Island to Brattleboro. State transportation officials consider the bridges “functionally obsolete,” which means they’re outdated, don’t meet current design standards, are narrow, and have height and weight limitations.
The most recent project cost estimate from the state Department of Transportation is $36.6 million, according to a September 2012 information packet from the Southwest Region Planning Commission.
Route 119 is the only road connection between Hinsdale and Brattleboro, and there are many examples of people living in one town and commuting to the other for work or to shop, Darcy said. Hinsdale and Brattleboro emergency services rely on each other for mutual aid, he said. In addition, Hinsdale contracts with Rescue Inc., which is based in Brattleboro, for ambulance service, he said.
Complicating the problem is vehicles coming off the bridge in Brattleboro, which hit a four-and-a-half-way intersection and railroad crossing that can easily jam up traffic, he said.
“I’ve parked on the island before and walked into work,” Darcy said.
Kelly read the findings of a March inspection of the two bridges by state transportation officials, which concluded that “although the bridges clearly needed attention, they weren’t in danger of failing in the near future.”
However, the report noted that transportation officials were unable to complete the inspection because of an access problem, and would return to finish it “as soon as time allows.”
Kelly offered to contact transportation officials to find out when the inspection would be finished, and to possibly have them meet with town officials on the same day. Selectmen accepted her offer.
She, Weber and Butynski also spoke about the funding challenges the state faces in repairing its infrastructure, and spoke favorably about a legislative bill to increase the gas tax in an effort to cover some of those expenses.
Butynski also spoke about the importance of getting the project back on the state’s 10-year transportation plan, which the Southwest Region Planning Commission is advocating for in its recommendations this month for area improvements.
“The reality is for the bridge to get fully funded, it’s going to require a major federal grant,” he said. “Once the bridge is on the 10-year plan, I think it has a reasonable chance to get federal funding.”
Selectman Jerome Ebbighausen Jr. said town officials have been doing what they can to encourage commercial development along the Route 119 corridor, but for that to happen, tractor trailers and other big trucks need to be able to get across those bridges, which they currently can’t, he said.
“It’s our turn. Somewhere in the last 40 years, we should have been able to get this.”