Construction Begins on Unique Connecticut River Bridge

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(Host) The single-span arch bridge over the Connecticut River between Brattleboro and Chesterfeld, New Hampshire, is a historic landmark. In 1937, the year it was built, the American Institute of Steel Construction recognized it as the most beautiful bridge of its kind.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the historic bridge is about to get some company.

(Keese) In the next few months, a gleaming steel arch will begin to rise over the Connecticut. Suspended by cable, each 30-ton segment will hang mid-air over the river from two temporary towers while the project is being completed. The new bridge is being built just upstream from the old arch bridge to meet today’s traffic demands. It will be wider, but a near-twin to its historic companion.

The new span will be used for cars and trucks, and the old one will be used for foot traffic. Travelers can already see the changes. The abutments are almost finished.

New Hampshire and Vermont are in the project together, but the Transportation Department in the Granite State is the lead agency. Dale Andrews is the Pittsford, Maine contractor’s onsite superintendent. He’s worked on many bridges, but none like this one:

(Andrews) "This is unique. It’s not a simple span. Usually owners are trying to get the most bang for their buck, which is a simple span. But this is a unique bridge. I know I’ll probably never see another one like it."

(Keese) A 1933 legislative act gave New Hampshire jurisdiction of the Connecticut River up to the low water mark on the Vermont side. According to Alec Portalupi, Vermont’s project manager, his state’s share of the bridge will be about $3.1 million dollars in federal and state highway funds. The total cost of the bridge is $47 million. Vermont will spend another $4.7 million to link the new bridge to the Route 9 rotary at Brattleboro’s north end.

That project includes reconstructing a train overpass that carries Amtrak and freight up the Vermont side of the river. Negotiations with New England Central Railroad and other complications have delayed the project.

But Portalupi, the Vermont project manager, says the road should be ready by the fall of 2003, when the new bridge is scheduled to open:

(Portalupi) "We had hoped to have our side under construction in May or June. So we’ve lost a couple of months. I sill think we can catch up with New Hampshire’s contractor, and hopefully if we’re able to get this under construction in September, we’ll have our roadway in place and have the railroad overpass reconstructed so that traffic will flow smoothly to the roundabout. One way or another, it’ll come across and we’ll have a connection."

(Keese) New Hampshire officials say that if traffic continues to increase, the twin bridges could both be used for one-way traffic in the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

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