An open letter to Gov. Chris Sununu, copied to Gov. Phil Scott:
I am writing this letter to once again plead for the reconstruction of the historic Vilas Bridge, as was promised by your predecessors.
For reference, a memorandum of agreement was signed in 1994 by the Federal Highway Administration, N.H. Department of Transportation, N.H. State Historic Preservation Office, and accepted by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, as a means to preserve a historic and critical piece of infrastructure, in common use by both Vermont and New Hampshire, in exchange for the much-needed removal of the Kelleyville Bridge. The agreement was never upheld and instead in 2009 replaced with demolition by neglect, which continues to this day.
Although the Vilas Bridge has once again been placed in the N.H. Department of Transportation 10-year Plan, it has in prior years been shoved out, dropped off, then re-added at 50 percent of funding and runs the risk of falling off the fiscal cliff again.
This year, 2021, the New Arch Bridge will receive “routine maintenance,” maintenance that the neglected Vilas Bridge will not. The New Arch Bridge is north of the once vibrant village center, our downtown, effectively detouring any New Hampshire traffic, bypassing our merchants and services. For more than the last 100 years the downtown thrived as the “big town” for both Rockingham and Walpole as access by way of the Vilas Bridge created a seamless relationship between the two communities and provided for the mutual needs of all bi-state area residents.
Our churches, our post office, our historic Bellows Falls Opera House, our shops, all provided goods and services, both spiritual and mundane, to the residents of both states. Families live on both sides of the mighty Connecticut River and share a bond state government cannot divide, but for the Vilas Bridge, closed to traffic.
The bonds of Cheshire and Windham counties’ peoples are apparently stronger than the desire to continue the routine maintenance of a beloved bridge, far away from the tourist-crowded priorities of I-93/Everett Turnpike in New Hampshire.
Even pre-pandemic, both our communities struggled. Now we choke behind our masks, waiting for fresh air, a fresh perspective, reinvigoration of our lives. Something vital you could provide with a stroke of a pen.