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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

A State of Collapse - The Threat of Being Functionally Obsolete

When you walk across the bridge to Hinsdale you feel the bridge vibrating underfoot. It is a sustained motion, that combined with the obviously “insufficient weight limits” might give the pedestrian pause to be concerned in what is an otherwise peaceful, scenic river view.

What the long-term overweight loads and steady shaking does to the bridge structure is another matter.

Even if you didn’t know the age of the nearly one hundred year old Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge that connects Brattleboro to New Hampshire you’d have to be blind not to see that it is “functionally obsolete.” Both the Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana, Pennsylvania truss bridges, built in 1921, were built to handle weight loads that were far less than multiple fully loaded 60 foot tractor-trailers weighing 80,000 pounds or more each.

On either end of the Anna Hunt Marsh Bridge are pylons giving grounded support. The problem is the bridge is the length of a football field! Spanning the Connecticut River at 300 feet, there is no additional support underneath of the bridge.

Some of us pedestrians and drivers, not being bridge engineers, may be alarmed about the safety of the bridge, although I think recent news stories about citizen and agency concerns indicate growing unease about the current state of the bridge structure.

One obvious solution for safety is to establish what the accurate and bearable combined weight load is for today’s world of vehicular traffic. Equally obvious is that a lowered permissible weight load will likely affect local truck deliveries for businesses on both sides of the Connecticut River.

The fact that a fairly recent plan proposal includes renovating the bridge for pedestrian and bicycle traffic is what was needed years ago. It’s understood that any new bridge construction is millions of dollars and probably ten years away.

Is there time to design, approve and implement new bridge construction before a potential collapse occurs? With no convenient alternative that roundtrip Brattleboro to Hinsdale traffic can use, there’s only one way to find out.


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There was a potential for collapse the day the bridge opened. It is probably greater now. Not much, though.
With good maintenance the bridge may go another 25 or 30 years. Only an engineering study would know better.
Yes, it shakes. Probably shook from the day it opened. Everything built with a frame has to have some give. The top of the Empire State building sways two feet in a good wind. Has been for 80 years.
Is it outmoded? Well, it's certainly narrow. Vehicles have to move a little slower. Not a big problem.
As far as I know planning for a new bridge began almost twenty years ago. There is an official design now. Nevertheless, as we know, the world is always in a state of flux and by the time New Hampshire is ready to build something there may be a need for a different design. It is New Hampshire's call, with input from Vermont, because New Hampshire "owns" the river. They don't appear to be in a hurry to build. As everything it is a cost-benefit analysis. Do the economics warrant a 25 or 30 million dollar bridge? A 40 million dollar bridge? Do five houses on the far side of a creek warrant a half million dollar bridge?


The problem is Benning Wentworth

Wentworth was the first colonial governor of New Hampshire (from 1741 to 1766 – Bennington bears his name today). He was a “goombah” of the King, and when New Hampshire was created, the King gave him the west side of the Connecticut River for his boundary, instead of the middle. Thus, New Hampshire owns these bridges.
New Hampshire doesn’t like to spend money on infrastructure, particularly if Vermont will benefit (The Vilas Bridge in Bellows Falls is another victim).
Vermont and NH are supposed to be working out a financial agreement, but I don’t know how it’s doing


Wal Mart Might care.

My observation of the New Hampshire approach to infrastructure is that main roads get the Cadillac treatment.
The NH DPW seems to love clover leafs and elaborate ramp systems. They've moved Rt. 9 east of Keene up to an exposed ridge line at great expense. It may have made the road slightly shorter and straighter, but the amount of hillside that had to be cut away for that shortening was pretty drastic.

On the other hand, when it comes to the secondary highways like the one that connects Rt. 9 to Westmoreland, I agree with your statement. That road appears completely neglected, and many other non-highways seem to be equally unloved.

What would Wal Mart have to say to the state if the Hinsdale bridge was forced to close and shut off a lot of their business? That would be an interesting conversation to eaves drop in on.
Also, the NH state liquor outlet over there would probably have to shut down.


Do they remember they own it?

Perhaps the aim is to wait for it to collapse before building new.

NH spent money to improve the RT 9 approach into the state, but seems to be dragging its feet with a new route to Hinsdale, which is planned to go in somewhat south of the Marlboro parking lot. There are reports every so often of a new hearing, or delays.

It's probably that most NH legislators don't travel that way, and forget that the bridge exists unless people scream about it.


Route 9

Route 9 is part of a major commercial route that runs in a more-or-less straight line from Cleveland Ohio to Portland Maine: a sort of phantom interstate. It carries significant truck traffic from the Albany NY area (and south) to Northern New England.
It makes sense that NH would spend money on it.
Rt. 119, by any standard, is a local road. A few local small businesses make out. Most of Wal-Mart’s profits wind up in Arkansas. The Track wasn’t making any money. I can’t see the fireworks outlets being there in another few years.
NH has erected a nifty new Liquor Outlet on Rt. 9 which will take a lot of business away from the Hinsdale Road (you won’t have to drive through Brattleboro).
BTW, does anybody think it strange that “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire has “Socialized Alcohol” ?
And another BTW, VT route 119 is the state’s shortest state highway. (It runs from Malfunction Junction to the river.)


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