Tuesday July 30, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Three government agencies overseeing the replacement of the bridge connecting Brattleboro to New Hampshire have announced the availability of a draft environmental assessment and will welcome comments about it at an upcoming public meeting.

The Federal Highway Administration, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the Vermont Agency of Transportation have alerted the public -- as required by the National Environmental Policy Act -- to the meeting slated for 6 p.m. in Cusic Room 296 of the Windham Regional Career Center on Thursday, Aug. 1.

According to a public notice, there is currently a 30-day public-comment period for people to send written comments about the draft environmental assessment. Comments can be sent to: Jacqueline Dagesse, of EIV Technical Services, 55 Leroy Road, Ste 15, Williston, VT 05495, or at jdagesse@eivtech.com.

The public meeting in August will be held to provide information and receive oral and written comments from citizens. All interested individuals, as well as federal, state and local agencies, are invited.

Hard copies and the electronic files of the draft assessment are available for viewing at the Brattleboro Town Office, the Hinsdale, N.H., Town Office, VTrans, NHDOT, the Brooks Memorial Library, the Hinsdale Public Library, the Windham Regional Planning Commission, the Southwest Region Planning Commission and the Vermont and New Hampshire offices of the Federal Highway Administration.

Brattleboro is connected to Hinsdale, N.H., by two Pennsylvania truss bridges that were built in 1920. The Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge connects Brattleboro to Hinsdale Island, which is connected to Hinsdale by the Charles Dana Bridge. JB Mack, the principal planner for the Southwest Region Planning Commission, previously told the Reformer that federal highway standards dictate the bridges are too narrow and have insufficient weight limits and vertical clearances.

The project has been included in New Hampshire's Ten Year Plan, which serves as a way "to develop and implement a plan allowing New Hampshire to fully participate in federally supported transportation improvement projects as well as to outline projects and programs funded with State transportation dollars." The plan would be used to rehabilitated the two existing bridges, which are still safe for vehicular traffic.

Local citizens and state representatives are passionate about constructing a bridge that will replace the existing ones, as they feel it is vital for both public safety and the towns' respective economies. Under the plan, the older bridges would be rehabilitated and would still be used for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

The new bridge 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."

According to the assessment, the longer western bridge "carries Route 119 over the main channel of the river (and) the eastern bridge spans a side channel." It says the bridges were built in 1920 and 1926, respectively. The western bridge is jointly owned by New Hampshire and Brattleboro while the eastern one is owned and maintained by New Hampshire.

The substructures are made of a mix of concrete and masonry materials. A sidewalk was installed on the north side of both bridges in 1988 and precast concrete deck panels were put into place in 2003. But despite on-going maintenance efforts, both are considered seriously deteriorated, as the river has removed much of the supporting sediment at the foundations and the structural steel framing has corroded.

According to the assessment, 10 alternatives that would maintain the Route 119 corridor linking Brattleboro and Hinsdale were considered. The preferred alternative -- referred to as Alternative F -- would be consistent with area land uses, and result in minimal changes to existing land uses. The potential for indirect growth impact and project-related growth impacts is also minimal. The assessment also says no agricultural lands would be affected by construction of Alternative F.

The assessment did, however, identify several potential project-related acquisitions. They are a residential structure on the west side of Vermont Route 142, the North Country Naturals/Raymond James Metals commercial building on the east side of the road, a right-of-way easement over the New England Central Railroad line to the east and 25 parking spaces at the south end of the Marlboro College parking lot. The project also would require the relocation of a the private access road to Norm's Marina and the auto recycling center south of Route 119.

The assessment noted that new bridge piers within the Connecticut River may result in some limited and temporary impacts to the river's water quality. It says stormwater discharges from the completed bridge into the river would also occur. However, these discharges are expected to be minimal and would barely have an effect on the waters.

Also, up to 0.11 acres of the Hinsdale Island's wetland could be affected if the replacement bridge passes over it.

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