Workers from the New Hampshire Department of TransĀ­portation inspect one of the Hinsdale/Brattleboro bridges on Route 119 in Hinsdale, N.H., Monday.
Workers from the New Hampshire Department of TransĀ­portation inspect one of the Hinsdale/Brattleboro bridges on Route 119 in Hinsdale, N.H., Monday. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday March 27, 2013

HINSDALE, N.H. -- The state's Department of Transportation on Monday was performing inspections on two bridges connecting the town with Vermont that many hope will be replaced by one brand-new structure.

Steve Johnson, NHDOT's assistant administrator for bridge maintenance, said the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges on Route 119 show some minor deterioration the department wants to take care of, but no major problems. New Hampshire, Vermont and two separate regional planning commissions have been pushing for a proposed Route 119 replacement bridge that would span the Connecticut River, starting near the stop light at the old Walmart location and landing near the Merrill Gas Company tank farm in Brattleboro, Vt.

One of those planning commissions, the Southwest Region Planning Commission, is putting the bridges on a priority list it will submit to the NHDOT this April. The state agency will then review the lists of regional projects and decide which should go into the state's 10-year transportation improvement plan.

JB Mack, the principal planner for the Keene-based SWRPC, told the Reformer a report was put together following a site visit in September to highlight any remaining questions in regards to improving the bi-state project's readiness for the 10-year planning process. He said within the next few weeks, officials from both towns are expected to come together to discuss the SWRPC's report and how to find answers to the remaining questions, which include economic development.

He said in September he believes the price of the project will run between $37 and $38 million, though New Hampshire would not be responsible for the whole cost.

Mack said the two Pennsylvania truss bridges in use today were built in 1920 and are now considered "functionally obsolete." He said, based on federal highway standards, they are too narrow and have insufficient weight limits and vertical clearances. The Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge connects Brattleboro to Hinsdale Island, which is connected to Hinsdale by the Charles Dana Bridge.

"Wide loads, tall loads and heavy loads can't use the bridges," Mack said. "By all accounts, they are still considered safe bridges -- but they have limitations."

He said the bridges' decks were repaired in 1988, "but that's just one part of the bridge."

Mack said there were "no surprises" during the inspections. He mentioned the previous inspections took place in September 2011.

NHDOT Project Manager Donald Lyford told the Reformer no plans have changed since the site visit in September and those involved are now waiting on funding from the federal level. He said the project is not in New Hampshire's 10-year plan because there is no money available.

Mike Darcy, the chairman of the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen, said Tuesday the project is vital to the towns on both sides of the river.

"The towns of Hinsdale and Brattleboro share a lot more than we often admit. People work on either side of the river," he said, mentioning that his wife works for C&S Wholesale Grocers in Brattleboro. "It's a community -- even though we are separated by a river."

He went on to say countless people utilize the bridges, as Hinsdale residents use them to get to stores such as Price Chopper and Hannaford and Brattleboro locals travel to Hinsdale to shop at the Walmart Supercenter.

He said a new bridge could result in an economic boom and might help clear up the traffic in the Brattleboro intersection known as "Malfunction Junction.

(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
" He said the legislative delegates from Hinsdale and Walpole are expected to attend a Selectmen's meeting on Monday, April 8, to further discuss this issue.

"This is a multi-year project. We're not going to see a new bridge tomorrow even if we get the funding today," he said. "It's a long road to travel, but it's the one we're on."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.