A much-anticipated project: Hinsdale-to-Brattleboro bridge work could start in 2020

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BRATTLEBORO — N.H. Department of Transportation officials presented changes to the roads and intersections Brattleboro residents have been navigating for decades at a public informational meeting Thursday night. For most Brattleboro residents, the project to replace the two current existing bridges connecting downtown with its neighbor, Hinsdale, N.H., is long overdue but any forward progress is welcome.

The project is no stranger to setbacks. Lyford said that the first Brattleboro-to-Hinsdale bridge committee was established in 1996, but it wasn't until 2013 that the project passed an environmental impact assessment, which allowed the department to enter its final design stages.

"It took us a while to get going, but we're in the final design state now," said project manager Donald Lyford. "The contractor could start working as early as 2020. By 2022, hopefully, you can drive across the new bridge."

The final design stages have been overseen by the Project Advisory Committee that is comprised of 15 members representing both towns and New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as members of both the Southwest Region Planning Commission and Windham Region Planning. The committee decides on the design, location and logistics of the bridge.

N.H Department of Transportation Preliminary Designer Trent Zanes presented an engineering plan of the proposed bridge as well as the changes that will be happening to both Route 119 in New Hampshire and Route 142 in Vermont.

According to the public informational map, the bridge's location will be south of the existing bridges. On the Hinsdale side, Route 119 will feed directly into the new bridge, which will begin just north of Norm's Marina, then curve over to the southern tip of "the island" before straightening out to land in Vermont, above the railroad tracks and the tank farm at Barrows & Fisher Oil.

Zanes said that the proposed intersection of Route 119 and Route 142 on the Vermont side will be at the foot of the bridge and will have traffic lights, but on the New Hampshire side, the Route 119 and Mountain Road intersection will only have a stop sign.

Several attendees, including Brattleboro resident Howard Fairman, expressed concern with the proposed Mountain Road intersection and how it could be dangerous for vehicles merging onto 119. Zanes mentioned that given the design of the road and the 35-mph speed limit, there will be enough of a sightline for drivers to avoid collisions at the Mountain Road intersection.

Zanes said the project also includes a six-foot-wide sidewalk from the Marlboro College Graduate Center, across the quarter-mile-long bridge and on to Georges Field Road. There will also be a sidewalk continuing at the mouth of the proposed bridge down Route 142 to the Royal Road intersection.

N.H Department of Transportation engineer Bill Saffian presented a 3-D model of the bridge. Saffian was able to navigate the 3-D model to show attendees what the proposed turning lanes would look like on the bridge as well as show the perspective of somebody traveling over and under the bridge.

Saffian mentioned that the bridge will be made of weathered steel and will span 1,782 feet across the river. The deck of the proposed bridge will be 43 feet above water level.

"The riding surface of the new bridge is going to be about where the top of the truss is on the existing bridge, so it will be a significant rise" said Saffian.

Saffian noted that the Project Advisory Committee is still deciding on how many pedestrian outlooks will be on the bridge and that there may be anywhere from one to three. The committee also needs to decide on the type of lighting and the location of the lighting on the bridge.

Dora Bouboulis, a Brattleboro resident and a former Select Board Member, expressed concern about how the bridge's lighting could possibly affect the view of the night sky and contribute to light pollution. "If all you're doing is lighting the bridge as an ornamental thing to highlight a bridge, it doesn't seem to be necessary, it seems to be a waste of energy."

Several attendees asked what could be expected of the two current existing bridges.

"The key thing from promising [rehabilitation to the existing bridges] is funding. Obviously, we're having a hard time building the main thing and getting this approved, so to put a whole lot into those bridges is a low prayer," said Lyford.

There have been suggestions from the public that the old bridges remain for pedestrians and to give people access to "the island."

There will be a formal public hearing on the plan in January 2018.

For more information, visit https://www.nh.gov/dot/projects/hinsdalebrattleboro12210/index.htm.

Marc Apesos is a journalism student at Keene State College in Keene, N.H. He can be contacted at Marc.Apesos@ksc.keene.edu.

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