BELLOWS FALLS -- Too many unmet transportation needs in the state mean New Hampshire will not accept Vermont's conditional proposal to finance the rehabilitation of the Vilas Bridge, according to N.H. Department of Transportation Spokesman Bill Boynton.
Francis "Dutch" Walsh, the development director in Rockingham, which is connected to Walpole, N.H., via the Vilas Bridge, told the Reformer on Wednesday that Vermont offered to pay for the bridge's repair as long as New Hampshire agrees to help pay for any repairs to all other bridges spanning the Connecticut River. The Granite State, which owns 93 percent of the Vilas, would be expected to pay up to the amount it takes to fix the Vilas.
But Boynton told the Reformer there are too many needs and not enough funds in New Hampshire to address the Vilas Bridge issue at this time.
"A viable option for crossing the Connecticut River is nearby," he said, referring to the Arch Bridge, which is less than a mile away from the Vilas.
Boynton said Chris Clement, the NHDOT commissioner, and Brian Searles, Clement's counterpart at the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), have had informal discussions about Vermont's offer. He said it was suggested that VTrans would front the cost of rehabilitation on the condition that New Hampshire reimburses Vermont.
VTrans Deputy Secretary Sue Minter told the Reformer that Vermont made the offer as a way for the two states to work together to solve a problem.
Despite the presence of the Arch Bridge, many residents and downtown business owners in Bellow Falls are frustrated that plans to rehabilitate or replace the Vilas have been delayed. It was built around 1930 as a "Symbol of Friendship" between Vermont and New Hampshire and was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009. At the time of the closure, a reported 4,600 vehicles crossed the 635-foot-long structure, which was shut down following a semi-annual inspection that found continued deterioration of the reinforced bridge deck.
The residents and business owners, who say they are suffering due to the reduced traffic, feel New Hampshire is breaking a promise it made 20 years ago. According to a 1993 letter from Charles O'Leary, the then-commissioner of the N.H. Department of Transportation, to Nancy C. Muller, then the director and state preservation officer for the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, the Vilas Bridge would be taken out of commission only under exceptional circumstances (natural disasters creating a serious safety hazard or another unforeseen situation). Muller also said efforts would be made to maintain it.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.