BRATTLEBORO — Most of the pieces are in place to begin the construction next spring of a new bridge connecting the towns of Brattleboro and Hinsdale, N.H.
On Tuesday, shortly before the Brattleboro Select Board was to discuss the taking of 32 parking spaces at 28 Vernon Street, an agreement was reached with Mike Renaud, the building’s owner.
During a site visit at noon on Tuesday, Renaud said making up for the lost parking spaces is going “to require some thinking. But I don’t want to stall the project anymore than it has been.”
The project to replace the two 100-year-old bridges connecting the two towns has been discussed for more than two decades and, even when added to New Hampshire’s 10-year transportation plan covering the years 2019 through 2026, the project was delayed, mainly due to right-of-way negotiations and utility planning. The start date was originally 2019, with a completion date in 2021. The current target dates call for opening the bridge for traffic in late 2023 with the project completed in mid-2024.
The taking of 32 parking spaces along Route 142 was necessary to both widen the road and to bury electrical and communications lines that currently run along utility poles.
The town and the state worked with about 14 property owners on the Vermont side of the river to make room for the new bridge and improvements to Route 142.
To make room for the bridge, two buildings will be demolished — a three-story multi-family building on the west side of Route 142 and the Heim Haus commercial building, which houses Raymond James Metals, just south of the parking lot of 28 Vernon Street.
With an agreement reached between Renaud and the town, the Brattleboro Select Board must decide whether to condemn a small portion of a parcel that belongs to a property owner on Left Bank Way. That 600-square-foot section of the slope leading up to Left Bank Way is needed for a new retaining wall along the west side of the road.
During a follow-up meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the taking of the property, Bob Fisher, attorney for the town, told board members the landowners were notified several times of the proceeding but did not respond. Board members also learned because the portion of the property being taken was basically useless due to its slope, the taking wouldn’t affect the property owner’s use of the land.
A property assessment specialist told the Select Board that it should reimburse the landowner $600 for the loss of the land. The board has 60 days to decide on whether the land should be taken.
The taking of all 14 of the properties will result in a total tax loss to Brattleboro of about $33,000, or .1 percent of the town’s total property tax receipts of $33.5 million.
The costs for the rights of way and the outright purchase of properties is included in the project’s $42 million price tag. New Hampshire, because it owns the Connecticut River to its river bank on the Vermont side, is responsible for about 85 percent of the overall costs. Vermont will be paying the rest out of federal highway funds and grants.
The bridge will begin on the New Hampshire side at the traffic signal for George’s Field and sweep across the river to land where the Heim Haus building now stands. The project will also necessitate the replacement of several small storage tanks at Barrows & Fisher Oil Company.
The project also calls for the rehabilitation of the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges and the island between for use by pedestrians, bicyclists and people looking for a quiet place along the river.
On the Vermont side of the river, Route 142 will be widened to allow for a southbound left-turn lane onto the bridge. At the intersection will be a traffic light and the bridge will have both a left-turn lane for southbound travel on to Route 142 and a right-turn lane for traffic headed into Brattleboro.
The intersection will also need to be raised 12 feet above its current grade to allow for adequate clearance for the trains that run on the tracks along the river. During the construction of the intersection, Vernon Street will be closed for several months. Traffic will be diverted onto Cotton Mill Hill and then onto South Main Street or Fairground Road. Because of the difficult intersection with Cotton Hill Mill and Route 142, an area to the south will be cleared to give large vehicles an area to turnaround.
The town is also talking with the board of directors of Morningside Cemetery about opening up Royal Road as a temporary through way between Route 142 and South Main Street.