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

Last modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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.)