Residents oppose VTrans plan to eliminate bridges

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The recommended solution to a three-bridge problem along Rt. 103 North in Chester may result in legal action as one homeowner vows to prevent it.

In this rendition of the VTrans alternative, the black lines represent new roads and the Mosher property is above the text box for Bridge 72

At a special meeting of the Chester Select Board last Thursday night, engineers from VTrans presented their recommendation for constructing one bridge to serve as the access to seven homes on the west side of the Williams River along Rt. 103 north and removing the Thompson, Jewett and Palmer Road bridges.

Two of those three are in poor condition and need either rehabilitation or replacement while a third is considered “functionally deficient.”  The project as VTrans envisions it would mean laying out new rights of way and constructing new gravel roads to connect the properties. And therein lies the rub.

Amy Mosher, who with her husband Brian own the Jewett Farm, told the meeting that they would not be negotiating with the town for a right of way because they do not want a new road running past their property.

The three bridges belong to the Town of Chester, which is responsible for their upkeep. According to VTrans engineer Laura Stone replacing all the three bridges would cost approximately $4.3 million.

But according to Executive Assistant Julie Hance, the state’s program is to replace one bridge (Thompson Road) and so the approximate $3 million cost of replacing the others would fall on Chester taxpayers.  The VTrans plan would reduce the number of town owned bridges by two and cut maintenance costs.

VTrans engineers Laura Stone and Jon Griffin explain the project. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

On the other hand, since all of the bridges are adjacent to a state highway and are not up to standard in a number of areas — including turning radiuses and sight distances for entering the highway — the state would pay 90 percent of the $1.8 million cost of its recommended plan. The town would be responsible for $182,000.  The full 152 page scoping study for the project can be found here.

The new bridge would be located between the current Thompson Road and Jewett Road bridges and set back farther from the highway to correct the turning and sight distance problems and to allow room for construction of new abutments. The proposed bridge would also have two lanes, each of which would be wider than any of the current bridges.

To lay out new roads from the new bridge, the state would negotiate with landowners to buy portions of their properties and, when the project is finished and the old bridges are removed, the old roads would be returned to the landowners.  If a landowner refuses to sell or feels that the price offered is too small, the town would have to begin condemnation proceedings to take the land needed for the roads.

Mosher said she had researched the condemnation process and felt that it would be more difficult than the board might imagine. She said that the town would have to prove that there was no reasonable alternative and that cost cannot be the only reason for taking the land.

Jewett Road residents Brian and Amy Mosher oppose the one bridge plan because it would locate a new road on their property

In addition, Mosher said that since the Jewett Farm is on the State Register of Historic Places, it would trigger a review under Section 4f of the Department of Transportation Act which prohibits use of land from  — among other things — historic properties unless “there is no feasible and prudent alternative to that use and the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from such a use.”

“Reduction to one bridge is not an option,” said Mosher.

Board chair Arne Jonynas said the board would take that into consideration, consult the town’s attorney and try to make the best decision possible. The Chester Select Board is expected to decide which alternative it will choose at its Sept. 4 meeting. If approved, construction on the new bridge alignment and new roads would be scheduled for 2023.

Other bridge work coming

While the decisions on the three bridges will be up to the town, the VTrans engineers also gave a “regional concerns” presentation on the results of scoping studies for two other spans on Route 103 north. These are state owned bridges and the plans were being shared for the information of the public.

Bridge 16 crosses the Williams River near Smokeshire Road and is in generally good shape although it will need to have its deck replaced and widened at an approximate cost of $2.5 million. But Bridge 14, which crosses the Williams River and the Green Mountain Railroad near the AllStone quarry on the way to Ludlow, is “structurally deficient” and must be replaced at a cost of $10.2 million. Bridge 14 will also be widened. The “design life” of the projects are expected to be 4o and 100 years respectively.

The work on Bridge 16 is scheduled to take place in 2021 while the Bridge 14 work is slated to begin in 2023 and take two construction seasons. Both projects will have temporary bridge detours and both are being paid for with 80 percent federal funding.

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