Selectboard sets tax rate, discusses options for Canal Street Bridge

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – At the July 2 meeting, the Rockingham Selectboard set the tax rate for fiscal year 2020. Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison reported that with a property grand list increase of 1.96% due to improvements in commercial and residential property, other property owners will pay less in town taxes. The Selectboard accepted a tax rate of 1.0778. Even though they didn’t have the final educational tax rates from the state, they motioned to accept the rates when they are provided.

The Selectboard also discussed options for the construction of Bridge #53, the Canal Street Bridge, which will take place in 2023. Harrison provided the Selectboard with VTrans’ options for the bridge, which was originally constructed in 1909. The current bridge has a culvert rating of four, which is poor. The presentation showed pictures of significant spalling and exposed rebar as well as contaminated soil and utilities that may need to be relocated depending on the option the Selectboard chooses.

Harrison mentioned that the options were being provided for the Selectboard to discuss but that she wasn’t looking for a decision at that time. Both options presented at the Selectboard meeting had pros and cons ranging from cost to useable space.

One of the alternatives presented was a full bridge replacement on-alignment with a new arch. The replacement would take place in the same location as the current bridge with similar dimensions. However, the project would include relocation of the sewer and water mains that would be expensive, about $500,000. There could potentially be hazardous waste mitigation, which would need to be completely funded by the town. VTrans also noted that with the bridge remaining on-alignment, trucks turning from Depot to Canal Street could still make the turn, but they would drive up on the sidewalks on the bridge and on Canal Street.

The projected cost of the on-alignment option would be $3,443,049 with a town share of $172,200, however it does not include the hazardous waste remediation that could add an estimated $140,000. The construction would take approximately six months with a bridge closure of 120 days.

The second option presented was a new steel beam bridge off-alignment by 450 feet northwest. This option would avoid relocating utilities and the hazardous waste impacts, but there would be a loss of parking on the island. The existing bridge would be closed to traffic and would remain for pedestrians; however, the existing bridge would not be eligible for future town highway bridge funding.

The projected cost for the second option would be $3,521,064 with a town share of $352,100 but would save the town from added costs of hazardous waste remediation. The construction would also take six months, but traffic could continue to use the current bridge to access the island until the new bridge was complete.

Gaetano Putignano said he would look at how the plans would affect the taxpayers. He also mentioned that he would like to see information about the condition of the foundation of the Canal Street Bridge.

Ben Masure and Peter Golec were in agreement that an off-alignment bridge would mean that the existing Canal Street bridge would be the town’s responsibility and, “You still have the issue that you’re going to have to remove it at one point or another,” said Peter Golec.

Harrison did clarify that, according to VTrans, part of the $3,521,064 total cost of the second option would be for rehabilitating the existing bridge for pedestrian use, which would include putting up balustrades to prevent motor vehicle access to the bridge.

Stephen Golec and Susan Hammond both mentioned they were in favor of the off-alignment bridge. “Some of the reasoning for it is the existing water and sewer can be maintained on that bridge and turning that into a walking bridge would probably enhance the area on the island,” Stephen Golec commented.

Hammond added, “I think it helps the businesses on the island.”

Harrison reminded the Selectboard that she wasn’t looking for a decision on the options, and the Selectboard requested that VTrans be present for their upcoming July 30 Joint Board Meeting.

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