BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Agency of Transportation plans to replace a bridge over the Whetstone Brook on Route 9 near Melrose Street in West Brattleboro in 2025.
“We’re thrilled that VTrans has taken into account the bad condition of this bridge, particularly the width of it,” Select Board Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said. “I know people have been asking for years for sidewalks and bike lanes, and this has it all.”
Plans for the approximately $5.16 million project were presented at the Select Board meeting Tuesday. The town would be responsible for 10 percent of the costs or $516,000.
Town Manager Peter Elwell called the project “exciting.” He said the town, Windham Regional Commission and Windham County legislative delegation have advocated for it for several years.
The project is in an area leaving the West Brattleboro Village heading towards Exit 2 and Living Memorial Park. Elwell said the bridge’s narrowness constrains traffic, creating hazardous conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Laura Stone, scoping engineer from VTrans, said the new bridge would last about 100 years. She described the current bridge having cracks, leakage in the concrete, heavy abrasion along the water line of both footings at the abutments and other issues.
Stone said the sidewalk is in poor condition and considered “slightly substandard” for accessibility as it’s currently 4-feet wide and state standards call for 5 feet. She called the current width of traffic shoulders “grossly substandard” as they measure about 1 foot on either side and state standards call for 10 feet.
Tree cutting would be restricted to certain times of the year because the project area has northern long-eared bat habitat. Also in the area are archaeological resources and historical buildings that will need to be considered during construction.
Relocation of utilities will require extensive efforts, Stone said. The estimated cost includes that work, engineering, archaeological studies and construction.
Plans involve a new steel beam bridge with improvements related to the hydraulic conditions, a temporary bridge during construction and a sidewalk added on the south side where there is none now.
Select Board members said the temporary bridge will be very expensive compared to a detour, which would save about $300,000 but be burdensome for drivers.
The bridge needs to be replaced but that “doesn’t stop concerns about my quality of life,” said Aaron Smith of West Brattleboro. He said trees will need to be removed from his property for the temporary bridge, taking away privacy and aesthetic pleasure.
“We would plant new trees as part of the project,” Stone said. “After the project and the temporary bridge is removed, we would go out there and seed it. We’d re-establish the turf. We’d really bring your property and your lawn back to its existing condition.”
Smith also worries the widening of the bridge will take away some land from him and neighbors, and there could be more speeding if people aren’t slowing down like they do now due to the narrowness of the current bridge.
Michael Bosworth of West Brattleboro said he’s looking forward to the new bridge.
“I think it’s really a chokepoint,” he said. “I think it’s a real discourager to biking.”
VTrans staff plan to reach out to neighbors as the project moves along. A consultant will be hired for design plans after the town provides formal input.