BRATTLEBORO -- Local residents have clamored for more of a say in the design of a new Interstate 91 bridge.
Now, they're getting it -- albeit on a tight schedule.
A public meeting to discuss bridge-design criteria is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Windham Regional Career Center, 80 Atwood St., in Brattleboro. And officials also say they're developing a local committee that eventually will have direct input into which potential design should be chosen.
"We were definitely pleased with the cooperation that VTrans has provided on this," said Matt Mann, a senior planner at Windham Regional Commission.
State Agency of Transportation officials say the bridge, which consists of two spans over Route 30 and the West River, is structurally deficient and must be replaced.
Plans call for major construction to happen in 2014 and 2015. But the project is moving forward rapidly to take advantage of available federal funding.
Engineers, however, ran into a roadblock at a June public meeting when they proposed replacing the current steel arched bridge with a simple concrete structure.
Many said that was unsuitable for a spot that's considered a tourist gateway to the scenic Route 30 corridor.
That was followed by a letter to VTrans from Windham Regional Executive Director Chris Campany, who asked that "the public be actively involved in the design of the new bridge and that weight be given toward the aesthetics of the
Hence the hastily arranged public meeting Thursday, which will be held in the career center's community room. Campany said the session "is open to anyone who has an interest in the aesthetic character of the replacement bridge."
The idea is to develop aesthetic criteria that will be used in selecting the companies designing and building the new bridge. But there's not much time, since VTrans -- which is advertising for design/build bids next month -- needs the criteria by Aug. 22.
"That presents a very tight timeline, but it's the timeline we have to work with," Campany said.
This is, Campany noted, the "last chance for public input" before the bridge-design process starts.
But even after that happens, a new "Aesthetic Evaluation Committee" will continue to be involved in the bridge project.
That group will be made up of the Windham Regional Transportation Committee along with "others who have an interest," Mann said. And it will play an important role, since companies bidding on the project must discuss bridge designs with the committee.
"If they're going to submit a proposal, they're going to have to meet with us," Mann said.
Also, after bids are submitted, the committee will assist in "reviewing and scoring" those proposals with VTrans, Mann said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.