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My Turn: There’s no good reason for New Hampshire to repair the Vilas Bridge

I read with interest the column from Rep. Marjorie Porter of Hillsboro about the Vilas Bridge issue (“Has it come to this? Financial help from Vt.?!,” Monitor Forum, Jan. 18).

Porter was concerned about reports that New Hampshire was unwilling to help pay to repair the bridge (which is, according to all accounts, owned 93 percent by New Hampshire and 7 percent by Vermont). As someone who lives in the area, I am very familiar with the Vilas Bridge and have also been following the story closely.

The Vilas Bridge has been closed since March 2009. However, what Porter may not be aware of, there are two other bridges that serve the Walpole/Bellows Falls, Vt., area, all within a few miles of each other. The southern span runs between Route 5 in Rockingham, Vt. (just south of Bellows Falls), and Route 12 in Walpole; the northern span (which is less than a mile from the Vilas Bridge) runs between the Bellows Falls downtown area and Route 12 in North Wal-pole. The Vilas Bridge predates both of these other spans and, while it is quite a beautiful bridge, is not necessary to the flow of traffic between the towns that straddle the river.

As to Bellows Falls businesses hurt by the closure, those most affected are the few situated between the main shopping street (which empties into the northern bridge) and the river. There are no businesses on the New Hampshire side that abut the Vilas Bridge; most Walpole businesses are well served by the two remaining bridges. I am baffled as to what, after the bridge has been closed for almost five years, suddenly gave Vermont the vapors.

I fail to see any reason why New Hampshire should spend its scarce highway dollars on a bridge that appears redundant at best. As Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, has stated:

“New Hampshire’s position is that we have too many unmet transportation needs and do not currently have the funds to address the Vilas Bridge. A viable option for crossing the Connecticut River is nearby. We have bridge concerns in other areas that do not have a detour bridge close by like Bellows Falls. Although we are not done talking, we would be more open to share the cost burden which is now virtually on us. We do not have the money to pay back.”

Frankly, we have a bridge in Acworth along a state route (123A) that is in need of those scarce resources, and that bridge has no ready detours or alternatives. Let’s focus on those bridges and highways most in need of repair.

(Betsy Snider lives in Acworth.)

Legacy Comments5

If I lived in Acworth it probably wouldn't concern me either...However I live in North Walpole.....traffic is a nightmare for such a small village.....As usual this part of the state is overlooked....Saw on the new today that the bridge between Portsmouth and Maine was going to be repaired and the cost shared by both states.....interesting!!!!!!!!

Thanks for shedding a little more light on the subject.

I applaud the writer and the state for simply saying that there are other bridges very close by and this bridge is not needed. I have questioned here many times why the same logic was not used with the Sewalls Falls Bridge. There is a bridge 1 mile north and another 2 miles south. Millions of dollars spent so a FEW local people could save literally a couple minutes driving time.

As someone who lives on the Bellows Falls side of the bridge, I can report that we much more often go to Lisai's grocery and J&H Hardware on this side, for needs that in the past we would have gone to Shaw's and Aubuchon on the NH side. The NH stores still have better selections for some things. But it's often not worth driving the extra couple of miles. For us, and for others coming in from Vermont Route 121, the extra two miles of driving, and the slow traffic across the Arch Bridge which is the primary (and shortest) remaining route, keep us shopping on this side far more often. Same for drugs, although the drug store on the other side is also better stocked for many things.

As you note Whit - it's a couple miles!!!!!! You can barely listen to a song on the radio in that time.

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