(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Tuesday June 4, 2013

BRATTLEBORO - Representatives from Vermont and New Hampshire on Monday decided a timeline must be carefully mapped out in order to start building a structure replacing two bridges that are considered "functionally obsolete," yet still safe for traffic.

Fourteen people convened in a second-floor room of the Brattleboro Municipal Center to discuss strategies for improving the bridge project's readiness and prepare arguments for the project's inclusion in the New Hampshire Ten Year Plan.

Attendees included JB Mack, the principal planner for the Southwest Region Planning Commission, Hinsdale Selectman Jay Ebbinghausen, N.H. State Rep. Bill Butynski (D-Hinsdale, Chesterfield, Winchester), Vt. State Rep. Mollie Burke, a Brattleboro Democrat and a member of the State House Transportation Committee, and Mark Richardson, Administrator Bureau of Bridge Design at the N.H. Department of Transportation.

Danny Landry, project manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, took part in the discussion via speakerphone.

The next significant milestone for the project is a public hearing regarding the environmental assessment document, which Landry said should be ready within the next week or so. There will be another meeting similar to Monday's following the public hearing, which is expected to be held this month.

Brattleboro is now 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. Mack previously told the Reformer that federal highway standards dictate the bridges are too narrow and have insufficient weight limits and vertical clearances.

According to New Hampshire's website, the purpose of the Ten Year Plan is "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.

Everyone at the meeting agreed Vermont and New Hampshire cannot afford to have the two bridges "red-listed," or closed due to deficiencies within the next 10 years. Therefore, everyone said it is vital to start constructing a bridge that will replace them. 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." The older bridges would be rehabilitated and would still be used for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

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