Plans for new Depot Street Bridge in place

The Depot Street Bridge in Bellows Falls, Vt. Photo by Joe Milliken

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Back in August of 2019, the Rockingham Selectboard voted to support the Vermont Agency of Transportation in demolishing and reconstructing the deteriorating Depot Street Bridge in Bellows Falls. The concrete structure is one of two bridges that access the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center and the train station located at the Island Street location, just off The Square.

Built in 1909, the existing bridge crosses over the Bellows Falls canal and spans some 96 feet and is 32 feet wide. Owned by the local Great River Hydro facility, the failing bridge has a poor culvert rating and the concrete arch has spalling concrete and exposed rebar. There is also exposed reinforcement along the waterline at the arch foundation. The demolition of the old bridge will take place in 2027, after the construction of the new bridge and the pedestrian bridge.

The building of the new bridge and pedestrian bridge will begin in 2026, and the new bridge will be constructed roughly 200 feet from the current one, costing the town roughly $700,000 of the $15 million in overall costs. However, the Rockingham Selectboard was recently informed that it would also have to pay approximately $370,000 for the cleaning up of contaminated soil at the building site.

The Board has questioned as to why the town has to absorb the cost of the contaminated land when they have leased the property from the state since the mid-70s (when the park was built) and don’t own the land. Additionally, the property had been contaminated by the railroad for many years, before the town’s lease deal with the state, which is $1 per year.

“We are reaching out to some DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) contacts,” said Bellows Falls Town Manager Scott Pickup in a recent interview. “We are investigating to see if the brownsfield program may be able to assist in covering some of the contamination costs.”

Another issue is that the Agency of Transportation plans require the canal to be de-watered during the demolition of the old bridge, keeping any possible bridge debris from falling into the canal, which could cause serious damage to the turbines. However, when the canal is de-watered, the power station cannot generate power, meaning the state and town have to pay Green River Hydro for the loss of revenue.

“Another potentially large cost exposure involves the operation of the hydro, and the ability to supply the grid when requested during demand periods,” Pickup said. “We have had preliminary conversations with Great River Hydro to potentially coordinate some [repair] work that they are pursuing with the canal walls, and we could limit the cost exposure.”

Currently, the estimated total share coming from the Town of Rockingham to complete the project is $684,000, which includes an estimated $164,000 for engineering and planning costs, $150,000 in right of way costs, and 100% of the contaminated soul cleanup costs.

“A big thanks goes out to our federal elected officials who have provided the additional funds to help offset the local share of construction on the bridge replacement,” Pickup added. “Our local share would have been 10% of the current estimated $11 million in construction costs, which would have required a long term bond.”

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