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Hartford Officials Mull Fix for Fairview Terrace

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2016 12:33:17 AM
Modified: 9/3/2016 12:33:20 AM

White River Junction — After hearing a presentation from staff about the dangers of — and possible fixes for — a crumbling retaining wall that holds up upper Gates Street, multiple Selectboard members expressed an interest in either closing the road or restricting the flow of traffic to one direction.

“I just can’t envision that we can safely have two-way traffic on this road,” said Selectman Dennis Brown, according to a CATV video of the Selectboard’s meeting earlier this week.

The short, quarter-mile stretch of road includes the top of Gates Street and the bottom of Fairview Terrace, and features a steep hill, sharp bends and no sidewalk.

It’s a short and easy connector for drivers and pedestrians moving between downtown White River Junction and the residential neighborhood on the hilly terrain above who otherwise would have to significantly detour to Route 4 or Sykes Mountain Avenue. A traffic count found that roughly 850 vehicles travel a portion of the stretch of road on an average day.

“It’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Brown said.

The deterioration of the wall has been a major concern for years, but the more than $3 million estimated price tag has prevented the town from taking action.

Town staff and consulting engineers said that one bulging section of the retaining wall in particular needs attention to prevent a possible catastrophic failure of the road — or of the 75-plus-year-old water, sewer and drainage lines buried alongside the road.

Public Works Director Richard Menge said vibrations caused by cars are a constant stress on the water line.

“The thing I’m most concerned about is the shucking, jiving and movement that is happening in that hill ... If at some point that disrupts the water main enough, that could wash the hill down, and that’s something that none of us want to experience,” Menge said.

He recalled a water line break that occurred about 10 years ago on the similarly steep Ravenswood Terrace.

City workers turned the water off within an hour, he said, but the break still caused several hundred thousands of dollars in damage.

“I’m not trying to scare anybody, but that is what happens when water lines erupt and it’s on a steep hill,” Menge said.

Near the end of the discussion, Selectboard members Sandra Mariotti, who lives above Fairview Terrace, and Alan Johnson both expressed support for closing the road or restricting traffic.

“I’m leaning more and more toward one or no vehicle lanes,” Johnson said.

Elizabeth Feinberg, a resident of Fairview Terrace, said she favored the idea of closing the road, and warned that the dangers posed by traffic on the road are real.

“I jump into the bushes every time a car comes past,” she said. “My dog and I have come close to getting hit many times.”

The board also is wrestling with a variety of stabilization plans, each of which has different price tags, life spans and impacts.

The town already is committed to spending $20,000 to buttress the bulging retaining wall and install some fencing this year.

But that’s just a short-term solution; it is expected to prevent a major structural failure only for one or two years.

Taking measures to close the road to all vehicle traffic would add gates and fencing to guide and protect pedestrians, and would bring the price tag to $56,000, while allowing one-way traffic down the hill between Fairview Terrace and Maplewood Terrace would add jersey barriers and other pedestrian features that would bring the cost to $87,000.

But those options, too, are seen as short-term fixes, and only would put off the need to do a major repair project for about five years.

Selectboard members also have to decide what kind of a permanent fix to pursue — the cheapest possible option would be to close off the road to vehicle traffic and reconstruct the retaining wall with stone, which would cost about $2 million.

That fix would last for 100 years, but it also would require the town to spend about $250,000 to acquire or move a house owned by Ryland Ianelli, who does not want to sell his home and told the Selectboard that the uncertainty was causing him anxiety.

Ianelli’s house could be spared if the town went with a concrete-based retaining wall option, but that would add about a million dollars to the price, even accounting for the cost to acquire the property, according to Menge.

Allowing vehicle traffic to continue on the road also would increase the price tag, because it would have to be built to withstand long-term vehicle traffic, with the highest estimates falling between $3.4 million and $4.4 million dollars.

The town also is considering whether to do an intermediate-range fix, in which $700,000 would be spent to address the bulging retaining wall, that would buy more time for other structural repairs.

A presentation from Menge and Town Manager Leo Pullar recommended restricting traffic in some way for the short term beginning in 2017, monitoring the road for signs of additional damage and implementing a permanent fix in 2024, when some retiring debt would make it easier to take out a bond without impacting the tax rate.

Staff and the Selectboard indicated their plans to hold a public meeting, on a date to be determined, to gather public input before making a decision.

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