HINSDALE, N.H. -- A dozen individuals involved with planning a new bridge to connect the town to Brattleboro, Vt., met on Monday to discuss how the project is coming along.
Town officials from Hinsdale and Brattleboro, state legislators, planners and the project managers from the states' departments of transportation gathered in the parking lot of George's Field, where Walmart used to be. The meeting took the attendees across the parking lot, where people spoke of where the bridge is expected to be built, before they all got into their vehicles to visit Hinsdale Island and a spot in Brattleboro along the Connecticut River.
Present at the meeting were Southwest Region Planning Commission Executive Director Tim Murphy and Principal Planner JB Mack; Danny Landry, project manager at VTrans; Donald Lyford, project manager for the NHDOT; Brattleboro Selectboard member Dora Bouboulis; and State Reps. William Butynski, D, and Edwin "Smokey" Smith, R, among others.
According to Mack, Vermont and New Hampshire have been pushing for a proposed Route 119 bridge that would begin near the stop light at the former Walmart location, span the Connecticut River, the southern portion of Hinsdale Island and the Merrill Gas Company tank farm on Vernon Road and then touch down near Brattleboro's "malfunction junction." The Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge and the Charles Dana Bridge currently link the two states.
As Merrill is a private company on Depot
The thought is that a new bridge would improve traffic flow in Brattleboro.
Landry previously told the Reformer that VTrans hired two consulting firms to conduct an assessment in the area of the tank farm, which is required to go to the FHWA before the federal government obligates money to the project. Landry said the assessments consisted of field work to determine how various aspects, such as water quality, wetlands, recreational resources and historical resources, will be affected by the project.
If the FHWA approves the assessment, it will send the agency a Finding Of No Significant Impact, or FONSI, Landry said. The National Environmental Policy Act requires an environmental document for any project, no matter its size or scale, he said.
"We haven't heard anything but last week I heard that the environmental officer for Federal Highway, Rob Sikora, is reviewing another project in the Burlington area and he expects to be on it for about two more weeks," Landry told people at Monday's meeting. "And then from there he's going to move right on to this environmental assessment.
"And he believes there aren't any changes that have to be made," he continued. "So that should mean that we should get our FONSI pretty soon."
He said securing the FONSI will complete what he considers the most difficult part of the whole project. The next step, he explained, is to sign a bi-state agreement.
Though the federal government can obligate money for the project at any time, preliminary engineering cannot begin until a bi-state agreement is reached between New Hampshire -- the lead on this project -- and Vermont. Dandry previously said a bi-state agreement is just a plan of what will be done, what work will be required of each party and what it will cost each side.
When someone asked how long a bi-state agreement takes to complete, Landry chuckled and said it varies.
"It depends on if you're doing it in New Hampshire or you're doing it in New York," he said with a laugh. "If you do it with New York, which I did with Lake Champlain, it takes about three years. If you're dealing with New Hampshire, it takes less than six months."
Mack said both town are anxious to develop a new bridge and though it has always been a priority with the SWRPC, the project did not make it onto New Hampshire's 10-year plan in 2011. Lyford said the 10-year plan is updated every two years.
Bouboulis asked Murphy if there is support in New Hampshire for the project and he assured her there is.
Everyone eventually got into their vehicles and drove out of the parking lot to Hinsdale Island, which connects the two bridges. Mack described where the ends of the new bridge would be and where it would bend a little and those at the meeting looked out at the landscape. Lyford said the structure would be about 2,500 feet in length.
The meeting then continued across the river to an area near the tank farm, where it was described how the road will have to be raised to accommodate the project, and Bouboulis said the surrounding neighborhood has been very patient in waiting for the project to get under way. Lyford said it all comes down to finishing the plans and getting the proper funding.
After the meeting, Smith said people on both sides of the river have been eager to see the bridge started.
"I think this is a great first step to reinvigorate the life of this. I've been very patient over the years and hopefully this is the beginning of the completion," he said.
Mack said he thought the meeting went well.
"Our objective today was to educate people about the project," he said. "We have to get the project back on New Hampshire's 10-year plan. It had been on for years. ... That process will be starting for our regional planning commission this fall. We have to advocate for the project, put forth the arguments of why it's important."
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.