Lighting of Arch Bridge called safety concern

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BELLOWS FALLS — The chairman of the North Walpole, N.H., Village Commissioners said lighting on the New Arch Bridge between his village and Bellows Falls is a prime public safety concern.

Patrick Kiniry told representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation Tuesday night that he hoped the lights could be restored and powered by solar or LED lights.

"Removal of the lights, we all agree, that it's a traffic hazard," he said. A lot of pedestrians use the bridge, he said, noting that only the sidewalk needs to be lit, not the entire bridge.

Kiniry and other residents from the two villages attended a Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustee meeting to hear the New Hampshire presentation about the upcoming project at the bridge, which was built in 1983 to replace the original historic Arch Bridge.

Under the $2 million restoration plan, the two expansion joints on the bridge will be replaced and the pavement and membrane will be removed and replaced for what is expected to be another 40 years of use, according to Jason Tremblay, senior project engineer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Tremblay said New Hampshire turned off its three lights on the bridge due to a state directive in 2012 to turn off lights and save money. He said the two towns, Rockingham and Walpole, could pay for the light poles and pay for the electricity.

"If the towns want to come to an agreement...." he said.

Residents raised many of the same questions and concerns that had been raised last week during meetings in Bellows Falls and Walpole: the 20-mile truck detour north to Springfield, the lack of painted crosswalks, the ability of emergency vehicles to use the bridge and the lighting for the bridge's sidewalk.

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Bellows Falls Village Trustee Jonathan Wright said the bridge is of prime importance to the two communities, and he said the lack of repair on the closed Vilas Bridge was "choking our downtown."

Wright questioned whether the Vilas Bridge could be repaired so it could be reopened to be used during the Arch Bridge construction during 2021, and avoid the long truck detour.

"North Walpole is really 'East Bellows Falls,'" Wright said, since the two communities are so close and intertwined. The two villages are separated by the Connecticut River.

Tremblay said the Vilas Bridge is on a draft plan for repair, but not for several years.

Engineer Israel Maynard of Stantec Engineering, New Hampshire's consultant on the bridge project, said they had done some more calculations and that fire trucks and ambulances would be able to use the narrower lanes that will be in place during the construction.

Two-way traffic will be maintained on the bridge during construction, but the lanes will be narrower to accommodate the construction. Turning off and on the bridge will also be restricted, leading to the truck detour requirement since 18-wheelers need more room to get on and off the bridge. But Tremblay and the others would not make any promises, saying they would have to review it with other DOT officials.

Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright pushed New Hampshire officials on the Vilas Bridge issue, noting that the Vilas Bridge should have been better maintained rather than allowed to deteriorate to the point of closure.

Its closure, she said, "is impacting both communities. It matters to us."

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


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