Federal Infrastructure Funds Bring Vilas Bridge Repair Closer to Reality | Local News
BELLOWS FALLS — It’s been almost 13 years since New Hampshire transportation officials abruptly closed the Vilas Bridge to traffic.
But thanks to an infusion of federal infrastructure funds signed into law by President Joe Biden last November, New Hampshire officials have earmarked a total of $17.7 million to repair and rehabilitate the Vilas Bridge in 2028- 29, with preliminary engineering scheduled for 2023 and road rights in 2026.
JB Mack, senior planner for Southwest Region Planning, said Wednesday that due to the flow of federal funding, the Vilas Bridge project is now fully supported by Governor Chris Sununu, NH’s executive council and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
But, he said, New Hampshire’s 10-year transportation plan still needs to be approved by the New Hampshire legislature.
“It’s going in the right direction,” Mack said.
Last fall, New Hampshire officials included the Vilas Bridge in the 10-year plan, but only with 50% funding. Until recently, New Hampshire officials had hoped to secure 50% funding for the rehabilitation of the Vermont State Bridge.
Vermont had made various offers in recent years, including loaning New Hampshire the money to repair the bridge, but no deal was ever reached.
New Hampshire owns 93% of the Vilas Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River and connects Bellows Falls to Walpole, NH, with Vermont responsible for the remaining 7% on the western edge of the river.
Funding to repair the historic 1930 structure had fallen behind because there is another bridge about a mile upstream from Vilas Bridge, the New Arch Bridge. The two-span open spandrel concrete bridge, which was paid for by a local businessman named Vilas, replaced a covered toll bridge that had stood on the site for about 100 years. Before the Tucker Covered Bridge was the Hale Bridge, which was itself the first permanent bridge over the Connecticut River.
Mack said the Vilas Bridge project was “quite complicated” as far as construction projects go, due to the lack of space near the bridge for a construction company staging area. In addition to this, the town of Walpole sends much of its sewage to the Bellows Falls sewage treatment plant via a set of pipes that lie under the Vilas Bridge.
“The sewage lines and the historic look of the bridge…it will take a lot of care and planning,” he said.
The bridge was closed on March 19, 2009 due to deterioration. Since then, officials in Bellows Falls and Rockingham have been pushing their counterparts in New Hampshire to do something about the bridge.
The bridge connects traffic on Route 12 directly to downtown Bellows Falls, and businesses said they experienced a significant drop in business when the bridge was closed.
“Quite simply, there’s more bridge money flowing to New Hampshire,” Mack said, “and they could fund it entirely with the money that comes into the state.”
Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright said it was good news.
“It’s the first significant positive movement since 2009 on this bridge, but we’ll see,” she said. “I would like it to be in writing.”
“But it’s more clear. I’m afraid he’ll be taken off the list. It’s still a positive step. I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful. I continue to have hope , despite naysayers who say the bridge will never be reopened,” she said.
Mack said the additional infrastructure funding would also impact the new Hinsdale, NH-Brattleboro Bridge, construction of which began late last year. Because of the additional funding, he said it’s likely the state won’t have to commit to funding the $61 million cost of the new bridge, and instead could save interest payments by making it happen. paying out of federal infrastructure funds.