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September 30. 2013 10:45PM

Vermont petition seeks to have Vilas Bridge reopened

WALPOLE — Bellows Falls, Vt., officials are petitioning the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to add a closed bridge to the state's 10-year plan.

The Vilas Bridge that connects Walpole to Bellows Falls over the Connecticut River had been on the state's red list for 20 years when it was closed for safety concerns in 2009, DOT spokesperson Bill Boynton said on Monday.

The petition to repair and reopen the bridge has been taken as input into the current 10-year plan's public hearing process, he said.

The 2009 closure followed findings of continued deterioration of the reinforced concrete bridge deck of the 1930 bridge.

The three-span open spandrel reinforced concrete arch bridge is considered historic.

It was 18th on the state's red list when it was closed, and had been posted with a 10-ton limit.

"It was closed because of concern about its condition," Boynton said. "If it's unsafe we close it."

On average, 4,600 vehicles cross the 635-foot long bridge daily, but the nearby Church Street Bridge, located less than a mile upstream from the Vilas Bridge, has made the project a lesser priority in comparison to other bridges that serve as an area's only access across a water way, Boynton said.

The Vilas Bridge had been scheduled for rehabilitation in 2015 in New Hampshire's Ten Year Transportation Plan when it was closed, but Boynton said Monday the bridge is not currently listed.

NH DOT is currently accepting public comment for its 10-year plan, a procedure the DOT uses every two years.

Since state and federal funding for bridge projects continue to be cut, DOT has worked to make the 10-year plan a realistic plan as opposed to a wish list that would go unfulfilled because of lack of funding.

Though DOT does plan to rehabilitate or reconstruct the bridge at some point, it is not a priority for the department.

The brunt of the costs of reopening the bridge would be borne by New Hampshire, Boynton said.

"We own 93 percent of this bridge and they own 7 percent," he said of Vermont

He added it is a historic and beautiful bridge the communities on both sides of the river would like to see reopened.

mpierce@newstote.com


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