BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – A joint resolution dated Feb. 7 offered by representatives Partridge of Windham, Trieber of Rockingham, Deen of Westminster, and Mrowicki of Putney urging the prompt rehabilitation of the Vilas Bridge has gone to committee. Ironically, the Vilas Bridge was constructed around 1930 as a “symbol of friendship” between Vermont and New Hampshire. The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009 following a semi-annual inspection that found continued deterioration of the reinforced bridge deck. Efforts to repair the bridge have been delayed due to lack of funds. The efforts over many years to resurrect the bridge have not reached fruition. The wastewater line that runs under the decaying bridge between Bellows Falls and Walpole has been a cause of concern. The Town of Walpole had explored an initiative last year that would move the line to the Arch Bridge.
According to the resolution, the 635-foot bridge that spans the Connecticut River was initially financed with $30,000 in grants from each of the connected towns of Rockingham, Vermont, and Walpole, New Hampshire.
Additional information in the resolution includes: “Whereas, in 2009, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation closed the span to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic due to its poor condition, and Whereas, the approximately 4,600 cars that crossed the bridge daily must now use alternative routes, and Whereas, the bridge has now been removed from the 10-year Highway Plan although the New Hampshire Transportation Advisory Committee supposedly still discusses the bridge’s future, and Whereas, the town of Rockingham has requested the Vermont Attorney General to serve as an intermediary in the town’s request to New Hampshire state officials to assist in repairing the bridge, and Whereas, the State of New Hampshire’s wanton neglect of the Vilas Bridge continues to cause significant economic and traffic problems in Bellows Falls, now therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives: That the General Assembly implores New Hampshire state officials and its Congressional Delegation to make every possible effort, on a timely basis, to seek state or federal funding for the rehabilitation of the Vilas Bridge and be it further Resolved that the Secretary of State be directed to send a copy of this resolution to New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire Executive Council, New Hampshire Commissioner of Transportation Victoria Sheehan, the chairs of the New Hampshire House and Senate transportation committees, the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation, Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn, Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan, and the Vermont Congressional Delegation. This was read and, in the Speaker’s discretion, treated as a bill and referred to the Committee on Transportation.”
When contacted about the resolution, Representative Partridge stated, “We offered it because we would like to keep the issue alive. It is an important bridge for downtown Bellows Falls from an economic standpoint and it has historic significance. It is New Hampshire’s responsibility to maintain it and they have let it deteriorate badly to the point of being closed. The longer they wait to fix it, the more expensive it will be to repair. My questions for New Hampshire include: when will they start to work on it? If they don’t, will they let it ultimately fall into the river? Are there issues with the sewer line that runs under it?”
Walpole Select Board Chair Stephen Dalessio commented that Walpole’s position on the bridge has not changed. No timeline has been set for moving the sewer line and options are being considered. It should be noted that Walpole continues to meet their financial obligations to the Bellows Falls waste treatment despite not having a current agreement in place.