Keene city councilors rejected a committee’s recommendation for the design of the Roxbury Street Bridge replacement Thursday night, with everyone in attendance voting for a different aesthetic option.
Five of the 15 councilors were absent from Thursday’s meeting: Stephen L. Hooper, Gary P. Lamoureux, Janis O. Manwaring, Thomas F. Powers and David C. Richards.
Lamoureux, Hooper and Manwaring are the three members of the municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee who voted for the aesthetic option that narrowly won the committee’s recommendation at a Jan. 23 meeting.
Councilors Randy L. Filiault and Robert B. Sutherland, also on the committee, voted against the recommendation, favoring an alternative design.
“Boy, this is interesting,” Councilor Bettina A. Chadbourne said before Thursday’s vote. “The (committee’s) vote was three to two, and the three in favor are not here. That’s a disadvantage already.”
Built in 1950, the Roxbury Street Bridge is one of 11 red-listed bridges in the city and is scheduled for replacement this summer. The bridge crosses Beaver Brook between Roxbury Court and Harrison Street.
The municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee has already selected and approved other aspects of the project, including the precast concrete rigid frame and accelerated construction that will shut down part of Roxbury Street for up to two months during construction.
The N.H. Department of Transportation’s red list comprises bridges classified as being in poor or worse condition. Bridges on the list are inspected twice yearly to check for any rapid changes.
The Roxbury Street Bridge replacement is being funded through the state’s Bridge Aid Program, which means 80 percent of the costs for construction and design will be reimbursed by the transportation department.
At its Jan. 23 meeting, the municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee was tasked with selecting the aesthetic design for the new bridge from three choices:
Option A calls for decorative concrete columns at all four corners, with steel railings on both sides.
Option B calls for the same concrete columns as option A, with a low concrete wall on both sides and a decorative steel railing above that.
Option C calls for all elements to be made of concrete.
Adding lighting to the bridge’s four corners would add about $14,200 to the project cost, 20 percent of which would fall to the city.
City Engineer Donald Lussier offered his opinion at the committee meeting, saying he’d opt for a more visually pleasing option with lights, though it would cost more money. He noted that the Roxbury Street Bridge acts as a gateway, transitioning from an industrial area to a residential neighborhood.
Hooper agreed and said the concrete walls would block one’s view of the brook.
“Option C seems almost like you’re gonna miss — you’re not even gonna see you’re going over a bridge,” Hooper said.
Hooper said he leaned toward option A, as did Lamoureux, who noted that the price difference was minimal for the results.
Without lighting, the cost to the city of option A was estimated at $7,000, while the all-concrete alternative would cost the city $4,000.
Lamoureux said it would cost taxpayers less than $6,000 more for an aesthetically pleasing bridge with decorative lighting.
“These are the types of things, for $6,000, that it may not mean much to us, but when somebody’s driving around this community and sees the investment that we put into this community, it may make a difference to them,” he said.
After a half-hour of discussion, the committee separated the lighting element from the design options and voted, 3-2, to recommend eliminating lights from the aesthetic plan. Manwaring, the chairwoman; and Lamoureux dissented.
Then the committee voted, 3-2, to recommend option A, with Filiault and Sutherland dissenting.
With that option’s proponents absent from Thursday’s meeting, however, the committee’s recommendation had no visible support.
Councilor Mitchell H. Greenwald, who represents Ward 2, said he thinks the funds could be better spent elsewhere.
“I’m sure that the residents of Ward 2 would love to have an aesthetic bridge with all the fancy railings, but I hear more often than not, ‘Why are we doing all of these excess things?’ It’s about money,” he said. “… This is not the George Washington Bridge. It’s a little bridge.”
Filiault told his colleagues that the low cost isn’t the only reason he prefers option C.
“Yes, it’s the less expensive of the options, but in my opinion, in this particular neighborhood, the architecture and the design of the bridge just fit in with that neighborhood better,” Filiault said.
As the other committee member who voted against option A, Sutherland explained that he thought it might incur more maintenance costs down the road, such as painting and rust-proofing the steel railings.
Sutherland said the all-concrete alternative could also present some opportunities to incorporate artwork into the structure, either through tile insets or casting designs.
None of the 10 councilors present at Thursday’s meeting voted in favor of option A and instead moved ahead with option C.
Councilors also voted unanimously to eliminate lighting from the design plans, as the committee recommended.
“There’s more than (enough) light there. You can actually read a book from the lighting there,” Filiault said. “And as a council we’ve been discussing about energy needs and not wasting electricity, not wasting energy.”
The all-concrete design selected for the Roxbury Street Bridge replacement will cost a total of $20,000, with the state bearing the bulk, and Keene taxpayers responsible for the remaining $4,000.