Vermont officials suggest 2-state bridge dispute go to judge
WALPOLE, N.H. >> Some Vermont officials unhappy over stalled repairs to a long-closed bridge connecting the state with New Hampshire are suggesting that a federal judge step in to fix things.
The deteriorating 86-year-old Vilas Bridge over the Connecticut River has been closed since 2009. About 4,600 cars traveled it daily between Walpole, New Hampshire, and Bellows Falls, Vermont.
The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance said the span is the last remaining concrete arch bridge of its type in the state, and put it on its annual list of structures to save in 2012.
New Hampshire says the bridge isn't a priority, especially because there's another one nearby. The Vilas Bridge isn't part of its 10-year transportation plan, which lawmakers passed Wednesday.
"New Hampshire's concern about redundancy and cost equity remain to be addressed," New Hampshire Department of Transportation Bill Boynton said.
New Hampshire owns most of the bridge and is "willing to discuss an arrangement whereby Vermont would contribute more than a 7 percent share of construction and maintenance operations," he said.
A spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation said that an offer it made in 2014 still stands: It would finance bridge repairs on the condition that New Hampshire helps pay for future repairs to other Connecticut River bridges.
Lamont Barnett, Select Board chairman in Rockingham, Vermont, says a federal appeal may be the next step, based on a 1994 document that says New Hampshire is responsible for the bridge's maintenance.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by the Federal Highway Administration and New Hampshire officials. It said the New Hampshire Department of Transportation "commits to work toward the long-term maintenance of the Vilas Bridge with in-kind construction funded in accordance with the state's 10-Year Highway Program."
Much of the New Hampshire transportation plan approved Wednesday focuses on "bread and butter" improvements, said Bill Cass, assistant commissioner of the Department of Transportation.
Some major bridges up for repair include one along Interstate 89 in Lebanon, several other bridges near the Connecticut River and the bridge over Hampton River along Route 1A. An infusion of $200 million through a federal loan financing agreement will help pay for the projects.
Transportation officials also expect the widening of Interstate 93 in the southern portion of the state to be completed by 2020, with the roadway expanding to four lanes on each side near Salem. Route 106 in Loudon will also be widened in an effort to reduce traffic congestion near the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
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