HINSDALE, N.H. -- There is new hope on the horizon for advocates of replacing the two bridges linking the town with Brattleboro, Vt.
A proposed $45.7 million project to rehabilitate the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges for pedestrian and bicycle traffic and replace them with one that spans the Connecticut River made it onto the draft proposal of the 2015-24 N.H. Department of Transportation's 10-year Transportation Improvement Plan.
The project has the support of elected and appointed officials on both sides of the river, as they view a new bridge as a necessity for both safety and economic prosperity.
Hinsdale is reachable from Brattleboro via two Pennsylvania truss bridges built in 1920. The Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge links 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."
The bridges are used by emergency services and freight trucks, as people in medical distress are often taken to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and a lot of cargo is carried across the bridges during transportation. And officials say both Hinsdale and Brattleboro benefit financially from the thousands of vehicles that use the bridges every day. People go to Hinsdale to shop at Walmart and several fireworks stores and Brattleboro has a downtown area filled with mom-and-pop businesses and eateries.
At a June 3 meeting about the project, officials agreed Vermont and New Hampshire cannot afford to have the two bridges "red-listed," or closed due to deficiencies within the next 10 years. The new bridge would begin near the stop light at the former Walmart location in Hinsdale, stretch across the Connecticut River and touch down near the Merrill Gas Company tank farm in Brattleboro.
Michael Darcy, chairman of the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen, said the project's inclusion in the 2015-24 transportation improvement plan means local officials are keeping the pressure on.
"It shows that we've put effort in the right way to get the recognition and acknowledgment we need," he said, "and the meetings to finalize the list will be starting toward the end of the month and go until Oct. 8."
New Hampshire State Rep. William Butynski (D-Hinsdale, Chesterfield, Winchester) said the first meeting Darcy was referring to is slated to be held at Hinsdale Town Hall at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
Darcy said Hinsdale and Brattleboro are a shared community and it is important to keep the bridge issue "on the front burner." He added that inclusion to the plan equals less of an uphill battle for those advocating a new bridge.
"It doesn't mean we've won, but it's a step in the right direction," he said. "We haven't won until we have the bridge. That's the end goal."
Butynski called the project's inclusion on the 10-year plan "a wonderful start" but said the objective must now be to keep it there. A project to replace the current bridges was placed on the plan in the 1990s but was eventually dropped. He said it is also vital to get the funding for the project "sooner, rather than later."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.