Plans for a new Connecticut River bridge between Brattleboro and Hinsdale, New Hampshire, have languished in the planning stage for decades.
Now, despite serious obstacles, local officials in both states are renewing their efforts to advance the project.
The Brattleboro-Hinsdale crossing consists of two bridges connected by an island in the middle of the Connecticut River.
The bridges are almost 100 years old and officially belong to New Hampshire. The Granite State owns most of the river and would bear most of the cost of a proposed thirty-seven-million dollar single-span replacement.
But the project was recently removed from New Hampshire’s ten-year transportation plan, raising concerns that the bridges will not be replaced anytime soon.
Vermont has been involved for decades in local efforts to move the project forward.
“The project is very important to the livelihood of the southeast regional area,” says Danny Landry, who manages the bridge project for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. The agency hopes to revive the effort to replace the aging spans.
New Hampshire state legislator Bill Butynski, who represents Hinsdale, says the bridges are equally important on his side of the river.
“If and when that bridge deteriorates further and trucks are no longer able to go over it,” Butynski says, “And the Highway Department estimates that will happen within the next ten years --Hinsdale will have major economic difficulties.”
The bridges serve about 10,000 vehicles a day. The State of New Hampshire has designated them as ‘functionally obsolete,’ because they weren’t designed for modern traffic. They’re not listed as unsafe, but Butynski disputes that.
He says big trucks are forced to cross the center line to avoid hitting the bridges’ narrow frame.
“When you're coming in the other direction and a large truck is coming down the middle, it's somewhat frightening ,” Butynski says. “People who are not accustomed to it often times run into the sides of the bridge.”
A railroad crossing on the Brattleboro side stops bridge traffic when trains pass. Butynski says that’s a problem because Hinsdale residents rely on Brattleboro’s hospital and ambulance services.
“When there’s a train going by, the ambulances may be delayed five or ten minutes,” Butynski says. “And that can be life threatening.”
Several years ago a bi-state committee approved the design for a bridge that would bypass the tracks.
The Vermont Transportation Agency has just completed a federally mandated Environmental Assessment of that plan -- a necessary step for the project to move forward.
But nothing can happen unless the state of New Hampshire is on board.
Butynski says his region is a lower priority for scarce highway funds than the state’s busy I-93 corridor, which also needs work.
The region’s advocates are determined to get the project back on the ten-year plan.
They’re drumming up support for a public meeting the state will hold this fall to consider the request.