BRATTLEBORO - Eagerness was the sentiment expressed during Thursday's public meeting to discuss a draft environmental assessment pertaining to the replacement of the bridges connecting Brattleboro to Hinsdale, N.H.
The Federal Highway Administration, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the Vermont Agency of Transportation hosted the meeting in the Brattleboro Union High School Multipurpose Room and members of the public and as well as those closely associated with the project expressed their desire for a new structure.
Brattleboro is connected to Hinsdale 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, has said federal highway standards dictate the bridges are too narrow and have insufficient weight limits and vertical clearances. They are considered "functionally obsolete."
Hinsdale resident Mike Mulligan told Mary O'Leary, a principal hydrogeologist with EIV Technical Services, he feels the draft environmental assessment contains gross inaccuracies and said he fears the bridges are in danger of collapsing. O'Leary, who was leading the meeting, asked Mulligan if he thinks those involved the assessment are overestimating the integrity of the bridge, even though they acknowledge that it is functionally obsolete.
"By many magnitudes," he said.
Hinsdale resident Dwight Sprague and State Rep. Bill Butynski, D-Hinsdale, Chesterfield and Winchester, both said getting a bridge to span the Connecticut River as soon as possible is vital for emergencies. Currently, all ambulances and other emergency services must cross both existing bridges and run the risk of being stopped by the railroad tracks. However, the new bridge - chosen as the best alternative to the two existing bridges - would go over the tracks. It 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."
Sprague said his wife is confined to a wheelchair and he fears emergency services would not be able to get her to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital if something terrible were to happen to her. Butysnki said he always worried about his 97-year-old mother, who recently died, for the same reason and stressed the importance of constructing a new bridge.
State Rep. Edwin "Smokey" O. Smith, a Republican, said he has served on several committees regarding the new bridge and believes people must do everything possible to move this project along. It will be funded, O'Leary said, by the Federal Highway Administration.
"I think we need to do whatever we can to get out of the situation we are in now," he said. "It's time to do the right thing in this case. Both sides have a horse in this race."
Steve Lindsey, a former state representative from Keene, N.H., said he would like the environmental assessment, by the time it is finalized, to refer to the two existing bridges by their official names and O'Leary said that would be done.
Under the plan, referred to as Alternative F, the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges will be rehabilitated and preserved for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The new bridge would result in minimal changes to existing land uses, according to the draft environmental assessment. 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 is 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 and it says stormwater discharges from the completed bridge into the river also would occur. However, these discharges are expected to be minimal and would barely have an effect on the waters.
According to the assessment, 10 alternatives that would maintain the Route 119 corridor linking Brattleboro and Hinsdale were considered.
O'Leary said there are 15 days left for members of the public to comment on the assessment. Comments can be sent to: Jacqueline Dagesse, of EIV Technical Services, 55 Leroy Road, Ste 15, Williston, VT 05495, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follows Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.