Hartford Selectboard May Close Section of Gates St. in White River Junction

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2017 12:02:42 AM
Modified: 10/6/2017 1:04:47 PM

White River Junction — The Selectboard’s recent move toward closing the road linking the Fairview Terrace neighborhood to downtown was welcomed by neighborhood residents on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m excited,” said Anita Hamalainen, an interior designer who was pushing an infant in a stroller along Fairview Terrace on the way to pick up her three sons from the White River School.

Last week, Selectboard members expressed support for a $56,000 plan to close the road to vehicle traffic sometime this fall, and are expected to take a formal vote later this month.

The road closing will add 2 or 3 miles of drive time for the roughly 650 drivers who use the route each day, but Hamalainen said the trade-off is well worth it for her.

“It’s a sacrifice we’re happy to make,” she said.

Town Manager Leo Pullar told the Selectboard during its regularly scheduled meeting last week that he had spoken to nine families in the neighborhood, and that eight of them had expressed support for the road closing. Selectwoman Sandy Mariotti, who lives on Fairview Terrace, said she herself does not drive down the road, because she feels it is unsafe.

“I talk to people, and the people that I’ve talked to don’t use it, either,” she said.

The Selectboard zeroed in on the road closing as one of several options presented by town staff to address a failing retaining wall that shores up a segment of the road.

Every time a vehicle drives over the road, the vibrations add to the chance that the wall will collapse entirely, which also would break a set of 100-year-old cast iron water and sewer lines running beneath it.

No one knows when that might happen, Everett Hammond, of the town’s Public Works Department, told the Selectboard.

“You’re not going to hire any construction engineer who is going to tell you when this wall is going to fail,” Hammond said.

However, taking the vehicle traffic off the road would extend the life of the retaining wall, and staff have floated the idea of financing a permanent fix — which estimates suggest would cost between $3.4 million and $4.4 million if it were done today — in 2024, when retiring debt would allow for a bond to be taken out with minimal impact to taxpayers. That multimillion-dollar price tag has kept the town from addressing the road over the last several years.

Selectman Alan Johnson said during the meeting that he would rather not wait that long to develop the permanent fix.

“I’d like to see this move as fast as we can on it. I don’t know about waiting eight years, even with the road closed,” he said.

If a passing vehicle causes a water line to break, Selectman Mike Morris said, it could flood the downtown, destabilize the wall, or both.

“The less the amount of traffic, the less chance there is of that happening,” Morris said. “For safety reasons, I think let’s close the road down.”

Joe Saltmarsh, a contractor from Laconia, N.H., who said he’s used the road nearly every day over the last two years to access maintenance work for property owners in the neighborhood, expressed concern on Tuesday that closing the road to traffic could make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to get to Fairview Terrace.

“What’s going to happen if you have a fire?” he said. “That’s dumb.”

During the meeting, Pullar said that after discussing the issue with Police Chief Phil Kasten and Fire Chief Scott Cooney, he had concluded that the change would not significantly impact emergency services because responders generally don’t come from the direction of downtown anyway.

Other residents expressed support for the plan, even as they raised fresh questions.

“Personally, I think it’s probably a good idea,” said Joan Emery, one resident.

“It beats having it cave in,” agreed Ed Milewski, a former truck driver. “There’s kids out here.”

Milewski said he frequently sees oil delivery trucks and larger semitrailers using the route in violation of a 6,000-pound limit that is posted on the entryway. If the road is closed, he said, trucks that come into the neighborhood would have nowhere to turn around, which could create problems.

The plan would close the road from Fairview Terrace down to the junction of Maplewood Terrace and Gates Street. Pedestrian traffic would still be allowed.

Much of the $56,000 would be spent to buttress the retaining wall, and the town would be able to plow snow on the road toward the wall, maintaining a safe year-round walkway for pedestrians.

The Selectboard chose the option from a list of five alternatives outlined by town staff. The other options included a do-nothing approach, which would be free but, Hammond noted, carried the “risk of personal injury with possible death resulting.”

Vice Chairman Dennis Brown was the only Selectboard member to express support for a different alternative: allowing one-way traffic to drive up the road.

Because that plan would route traffic away from the side of the road that includes the wall, Brown said, “the expected life span is the same” as the full road closing plan, and that the associated $100,000 price tag is “doable.”

In supporting the closing, the Selectboard also is moving away from a $1.2 million stabilization alternative that would shore up the worst segment of the road for an estimated 10 years, as well as declining to tackle the full-cost permanent repair right away.

Pullar said on Tuesday that the staff recommendation for the road closing likely still would stand on Oct. 24, when they will ask the Selectboard to make a final decision.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

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