HINSDALE, N.H. -- The first meeting designed for the public to weigh in on the plan to replace the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges with a new one is slated for noon Wednesday on the second floor of town hall.
Known as a Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (or GACIT) meeting, it is an opportunity for people to either show their support for bridge projects in New Hampshire or help raise awareness for projects not on 2015-24 N.H. Department of Transportation's 10-year Transportation Improvement Plan. The proposed $45.7 project to construct a new bridge linking Hinsdale to Brattleboro, Vt., and maintain the two existing ones for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, recently made it into the plan's draft proposal.
JB Mack, the principal planner of the Southwest Region Planning Commission, said inclusion in the 10-year plan means the state can start apportioning money for the project, which can enter the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). He told the Reformer that citizens of Vermont are also welcome at the meeting because they are affected by the bridges as well.
"Every bridge that crosses into Vermont is important to the whole region," he said.
Brattleboro can be reached from Hinsdale via the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges, two Pennsylvania truss bridges built in 1920 that span the Connecticut River. The Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge links Brattleboro to Hinsdale Island, which is connected to Hinsdale by the Charles Dana Bridge. Mack has previously said federal highway standards dictate the bridges are too narrow and have insufficient weight limits and vertical clearances. They are considered "functionally obsolete" at this point.
The project is supported by elected and appointed officials on both sides of the river, as they view a new bridge as a necessity for both safety and economic reasons.
N.H. State Rep. Bill Butynski (D-Hinsdale, Chesterfield, Walpole, Westmoreland) said he hopes for a good turnout Wednesday and wanted to thank the N.H. Department of Transportation for putting the project on the draft proposal of the 10-year plan.
"It's a significant step forward. What we need to do now is ensure it stays in the plan," he said, adding that the old bridges are deteriorating. "It's in everyone's best interest on both sides of the bridge to get it done sooner, rather than later."
The bridges are used by emergency services, such as Mutual Aid, and a delay at the train tracks on the Brattleboro side of the bridges could be the difference between life and death for someone who needs to be transported to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. Fire and police departments also use the bridges. The new bridge would go over the railroad tracks and alleviate traffic at the section of downtown Brattleboro known as "malfunction junction."
Butynski also said a new bridge is vital for economic prosperity of both Hinsdale and Brattleboro. He said he has heard of several businesses that nearly moved to the tax-incentive district of Hinsdale until those in charge opted not to because their large trucks could not get across the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges. He said a new structure would make it easier for people to get to the Tractor Supply Co. store that will soon be completed in Hinsdale and connect New Hampshire residents with the downtown businesses and entertainment Brattleboro offers.
"To me, it clearly benefits people on both sides of the river," he said.
Butynski also mentioned that the Vilas Bridge -- the closed bridge linking Walpole to Bellows Falls, Vt. -- may be discussed at Wednesday's meeting in Hinsdale as well.
The second GACIT meeting is slated for Room 14 at the Keene Parks and Recreation Center at 312 Washington St. on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.