HINSDALE, N.H. -- Officials from Bellows Falls, Vt., attended the Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT) meeting Wednesday to advocate for the Vilas Bridge's inclusion on the New Hampshire Department of Transportation's 10-year improvement plan.
Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh and Mary Helen Hawthorne, the executive director of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, traveled to Hinsdale Town Hall to present a letter to Councilor Colin Van Ostern offering background on the history and importance of the Vilas Bridge.
Wednesday's meeting was held to present an opportunity for people to either show their support for bridge projects in New Hampshire or help raise awareness for projects not on the 2015-24 NHDOT's 10-year plan. There is currently a plan to replace the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges -- which link Hinsdale to Brattleboro, Vt. -- with a new structure and maintain the existing two for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The proposed project, which was recently re-added to the 10-year plan -- would cost about $45.7 million.
Walsh's letter regarding the Vilas Bridge included mentions of a 1994 memorandum of agreement by the NHDOT to work toward long-term maintenance of the bridge, resolutions by various parties in 2003 imploring New Hampshire and Vermont "to commit to fully restore and renovate this vitally important bridge within the next five years" and a 2006 Joint House Resolution of the Vermont House of Representatives urging the two states to expedite the structure's restoration.
Walsh also mentioned the Vilas Bridge has been added to the Seven to Save list, an initiative started by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance to focus attention and resources on significant historic properties threatened by neglect, deterioration, insufficient funds and inappropriate development in the state. The bridge was closed to in 2009 after NHDOT agents deemed it unsafe to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
According to Walsh, more than 4,600 vehicles used the bridge every day and its closure resulted in an immediate 30 to 40 percent decrease in revenues for businesses in downtown Bellows Falls. While the Arch Bridge provides an alternative route across the Connecticut River, it is to the north of the downtown area and traffic bypasses all the shops there.
Walsh and Hawthorne said they are in the process of working with Vermont state officials to come up with ways to raise money for Vermont's contribution to the rehabilitation project. New Hampshire owns 93 percent of the bridge.
N.H. State Rep. Lucy Weber (Walpole, Westmoreland, Chesterfield, Hinsdale) said she attended the meeting, along with colleagues Bill Butynski, Tara Sad and Molly Kelly because the bridges linking Hinsdale to Vermont are of the utmost importance.
She said she advocated for keeping the bridges on the 10-year plan, as it was dropped from it once previously. She said will attend the next GACIT meeting, slated for Room 14 at the Keene Parks and Recreation Center at 312 Washington St. on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
JB Mack, the principal planner for the Southwest Region Planning Commission, said turnout for the meeting was excellent, as about 60 people showed up. He said roughly 25 people gave testimony, including Hinsdale High School students, who spoke about how closure of the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges would affect young people who work in Brattleboro.
Mack told the Reformer 9,700 vehicles cross the bridges every day.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.