Arch Bridge facing repairs in 2020

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BELLOWS FALLS — The state of New Hampshire is gearing up for major work on the New Arch Bridge over the Connecticut River at Bellows Falls, and local officials are concerned about the impact on the local economy.

According to a recent letter from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, planning is underway for what it called 'bridge preservation' work on the bridge, which was built in the 1980s to replace the original Arch Bridge.

The work, which would be performed during 2020, would include removing the bridge deck asphalt and membrane, as well as replacing expansion joints, performing partial and full depth deck repairs as needed, and putting new membrane and pavement in place.

Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison and Village President Deborah Wright said the bridge, which would be restricted to one lane, could discourage people from visiting Bellows Falls.

"It will impact our village," said Wright.

Trustee Jonathan Wright said the economic impact on the village would be great. The village "would be completely shut off," he said, noting that people from New Hampshire would bypass Vermont rather than deal with trying to cross the Arch Bridge while it is under construction.

Harrison said Walpole, N.H., officials are also concerned about the project and want to hold a joint meeting with Vermont officials.

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Harrison said she's concerned about one aspect of the project - New Hampshire wants to remove the lights on the bridge, and she said pedestrians use the bridge a lot.

The subject of the closed Vilas Bridge - a sore point for the past decade in Bellows Falls - was again mentioned, with the possibility of having it reopened temporarily. The bridge was closed by New Hampshire state officials in March 2009 because of deteriorating conditions. The bridge, which is 635 feet long, was built in 1930 on the site of a long covered bridge.

Recent estimates put the cost of repairs to the Vilas Bridge at $5 million, and Vermont has even offered to help pay more than its usual share of 7 percent to get the bridge reopened. New Hampshire owns the Connecticut River, and as a result, is responsible for 93 percent of the cost of the bridges.

Deborah Wright said she had earlier in the week sent the letter from the N.H. Department of Transportation engineers to various historic preservation officials. She said she learned that New Hampshire had hired a consultant to look at refurbishing the Vilas Bridge, which is considered historic.

"It's been 10 years. It's some movement, not very much," she said.

Wright, in some of her research, had found evidence there was a deal struct with New Hampshire preservationists that the Vilas Bridge would be maintained if state officials had the okay to stop maintenance on a similar concrete arch bridge in Newport, N.H.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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