Hopkinton: East Penacook Road bridge repair approved

Last modified: 3/15/2015 2:02:20 AM
Hopkinton’s annual town meeting began Saturday morning with tales of the first such gathering 250 years ago, when residents appointed an official fence viewer and elected a hog constable to corral all the wild pigs in town. But it didn’t take long to get down to decidedly more modern issues, like balancing an increasing tax burden with proposed bridge repairs.

Voters opted to approve those repairs to the East Penacook Road bridge at a cost of $225,000, along with everything else on the warrant, passing an operating budget of $6.12 million and additional articles that – including the bridge construction – amounted to $673,000.

As part of the town’s sestercentennial (250th anniversary) celebration, selectmen wore attire suitable to the 1760s to the meeting and entered by weaving through the crowd as board member Ken Traum rang a bell overhead and announced “hear ye, hear ye, town meeting is about to begin.”

When it did begin – after almost 45 minutes of proclamations and other anniversary-related announcements – the budget was passed in relatively short order following an acknowledgment from the selectmen that Hopkinton’s taxes, higher than all but one surrounding town, are “an issue of concern to the board,” Chairman Jim O’Brien said.

That acted as the lead-in to the bridge discussion. Selectman George Langwasser highlighted the issues with the East Penacook Road structure, a major pathway to the transfer station that hadn’t seen significant repairs since 1985. He noted the pavement was breaking up, the membrane beneath was starting to rip, joints had begun taking on water and bearings and bolts were in distress.

The $225,000 repair price tag included $40,000 to keep one lane open during repairs (to avoid a 7-mile detour). The repairs are designed to extend the life of the bridge by about 15 years, Langwasser said, and the town is eyeing 2027 to replace the entire thing with state aid, at an estimated cost of $200,000 to the town.

Putting off repairs any longer, Langwasser said, would increase the cost later, and if the bridge deteriorated to the point of needing to be replaced before state aid was available, the town would be on the hook for the entire price tag (currently estimated at $1 million).

“If we take that bridge down, we’re going to cause incredible hardship to all of you,” Langwasser said. “We realize it’s a tax burden . . . but it’s better to repair it now rather than wait and gamble we can put it off a number of years.”

One resident asked if there was any guarantee state aid would be available in 2027, and Langwasser admitted it wasn’t a certainty but said it was “something we think (and) we hope will happen.”

Resident Ben Cochran said he was “opposed to spending more money on roads” until previously promised projects were completed, and Matthew Cairns suggested starting a capital reserve fund for the repairs so it could be paid for in smaller bites.

But Langwasser reiterated it was “a critical, critical bridge to this town,” and voters agreed, passing the $225,000 repair by an overwhelming majority voice vote.

The rest of the meeting was relatively breezy and featured only one ballot vote, which came on a petition warrant article to rescind the pay-as-you-throw program adopted by the town in 2010.

The program has been challenged by petition warrant article at each town meeting since its adoption but has continued to receive support, as it did again yesterday – by 169-77, the widest margin in those five attempts, according to resident David Lancaster.

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