STEWARTSTOWN — This town on the east bank of the Connecticut River got some good news this week: the bridge that connects it to Canaan, Vt., will get a $6 million “rejuvenation” sometime in 2016.
The announcement was made here on Tuesday by Christopher Clement, the commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, who along with Assistant Commissioner David Jeff Brillhart, joined District 1 Executive Councilor Joe Kenney in an all-day tour of the district, with a particular emphasis on roads and infrastructure in the North Country.
A two-lane, east-west span, the Stewartstown-Canaan Bridge is on the N.H. DOT’s “red list” of bridges that are in critical need of repair.
Also in the state’s 10-year plan, the bridge project was moved up within the plan and as soon as 2015, the state DOT will solicit bids for the repairs, said Clement.
He said he has the authority to move projects up within the plan, if, as happened with the Stewartstown-Canaan Bridge, it continues to deteriorate and its rated carrying capacity is decreased.
He added that the extensive work will cumulatively cost $6.229 million, of which $4.6 million will be picked up by Granite State taxpayers and the balance by the residents of the Green Mountain State.
“This is a significant bridge rehabilitation,” said Clement, “This project has been in the 10-year plan for some time and there’s been an emphasis to move it ahead in the schedule.”
He said the N.H. DOT twice a year inspects bridges and on Tuesday, after doing the same inspection himself, Clement was convinced that with its worn, potholed deck and rusted rails, the Stewartstown –Canaan Bridge needs attention and soon.
Allen Coats, who chairs the Stewartstown Board of Selectmen, on Wednesday said he and his colleagues were “very happy” with the news that Clement brought North with him from Concord, namely that the bridge would be rehabilitated, not replaced, and also that Vermont had a financial stake in it.
Coats said those details were unknown until Tuesday, although the 2016 work-date was.
“That project started out being in 2030 or something,” said Coats, “and thanks to the North Country Council and Ray Burton, we dealt with the N.H. DOT and we got it down to 2016.” The longtime District 1 Executive Councilor from Bath, Burton died last November and Kenney won a special election to fill the balance of his term.
Although there is another bridge that can be used to travel between Stewartstown and Canaan, Coats said having two bridges fully open is highly desirable because “our fire and emergency services are on that side” of the Connecticut River in Vermont. Stewartstown doesn’t have its own fire department or EMS services and contracts for them with Canaan.
Coats said it was a pleasure to meet Clement whom he called “a great person, easy to talk with” and someone who “we felt free to communicate with.”
Clement and Kenney said they did a lot of talking and listening on their travels Tuesday, with Clement noting that in the North Country, as elsewhere in New Hampshire, roads are “in need of repair.”
“Route 3 was worse in some parts than I expected,” said Clement, adding that he and Kenney understood the importance of keeping the North Country in mind whenever the state makes highway and infrastructure spending decisions.
“The more we can invest up here, the more it helps them in terms of tourism and getting visitors up here,” said Clement.
Toward that end, Kenney said both he and Clement support the application by the Town of Littleton — where they met Tuesday with municipal officials — for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Revitalization (TIGER) grant.
Littleton is seeking a $6 million TIGER grant as part of a proposed $7.51 million project that entails improvements in the downtown, in the area running parallel to the Ammonoosuc River. The grant application has been backed by New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation and a decision is expected sometime this fall, said Clement.
Clement said he was excited that, with the Legislature’s recent approval of an increase in the state’s gasoline tax, there’ll be money available to do a lot of road and infrastructure improvements all over New Hampshire.