Fairview Terrace Called Unsafe

  • Eric Goddard, of Knight Consulting Engineers, third from left, presents options for the repair or replacement of retaining walls lining Gates Street and Fairview Terrace in White River Junction, Vt. to the Hartford Select Board on site in White River Junction, Vt. Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Simon Dennis of the Hartford Select Board, right, helps Hartford Highway Superintendent Allyn Ricker, left, gather traffic cones set out for safety following a meeting on Gates Street in White River Junction, Vt. to discuss needed upgrades to retaining walls along Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Selectman Alan Johnson, of Wilder, left, and civil engineer Shawn Kelley, of Quechee, right, examine the condition of a retaining wall along Gates Street in White River Junction, Vt. during a meeting of the Hartford Select Board Tuesday, April 19, 2016. One of several plans proposed by Knight Consulting Engineers would require a home near the Gates Street wall to be moved to allow for a long-lasting stone bank to support the roadway. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2016 12:47:26 AM
Modified: 4/20/2016 12:49:33 AM

White River Junction — The public cannot be allowed to continue to travel over a road that is supported by a crumbling retaining wall, a structural engineer told the Hartford Selectboard members during a site visit to upper Gates Street Tuesday night.

For years, the poster child of Hartford’s inability to maintain its crumbling infrastructure has been a steep slope that allows Fairview Terrace and Gates Street to connect the downtown area to residential neighborhoods that sit above.

An analysis by Knight Consulting Engineers done in 2013 found that completely stabilizing the retaining walls that cut into the hillside both above and below the roadways will cost as much as $3.4 million, a price tag that seemed so cost-prohibitive that the town has taken no action on the project to date.

“I’m appalled that it wasn’t already on the rails,” said Alan Johnson, who was elected to the Selectboard in March. Johnson said that previous Selectboards should have brought a bond to the public before the situation became time-sensitive.

Because there were concerns that the area might have deteriorated more since 2013, the Selectboard asked engineer Eric Goddard to review different options for a short-term, temporary fix.

The area of greatest concern is a 275-foot-long wall holds back the earth on one side of a stretch of Gates Street that runs between Maplewood and Fairview terraces; during the Tuesday night meeting, Goddard outlined options that ranged in cost from as little as $50,000 for some simple bracing at the bottom of the wall, up to $430,000 to install a sidewalk and do some reconstruction.

The possible installation of a sidewalk was welcome news to Kirsten Arnesen-Trunzo, a CATV employee who said she walks up or down the hill four times on a typical work day.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “It’s a treacherous spot. There are no shoulders, and I get concerned that I won’t be seen when I’m walking here. Some drivers don’t abide by the speed limit.”

“The critical issue,” said Goddard, “is the stone wall.” He pointed out the way the wall bulged away from the road in places, and also where a valley was forming between the center of the road and the edge. “It’s basically creeping because it has a little more load on it than it should.”

The options differ in more ways than the price tag — some would involve narrowing the street to 14 feet, which would allow only one-way traffic, or alternating one-way traffic with a traffic control device.

The $50,000 bracing option would only last for an estimated five to 10 years, while the $430,000 rebuild would last for between 75 and 100.

Limiting vehicle traffic to one-way, Arnesen-Trunzo said, would be more of a mixed bag, with a route that would be safer, but less convenient for residents of the neighborhood that lies above the downtown area.

Some of the options would involve the removal of 24 Maplewood Terrace, a duplex located at the base of the problematic wall.

That option was news to Ryland Ianelli, who answered the door a little past 7 p.m. and identified himself as the building’s owner.

Ianelli said he bought the property in 2013 and hadn’t intended to sell it any time soon.

“It’s problematic,” he said. “It’s an income property for me, because I rent out the other half. I was looking to stay here for awhile.”

During the meeting, Goddard said it would be difficult to stabilize the site without encroaching on the property.

“There were options to avoid property lines,” he said. “But they’re more expensive and they’re mechanical-type systems,” a category of fixes he advised against because they have less longevity.

Most of the fixes would involve the removal of trees that grow at the base of the retaining wall.

Goddard also told the Selectboard that, in any case, cars should not be parked immediately beneath the wall. On Tuesday night, about a half-dozen cars from the duplex and a neighboring apartment house lined the base of the wall in the cramped parking lot.

“Parking is a bit tight,” Ianelli said, “but I understand where they’re coming from. It’s something that we could probably work on.”

While the initial report characterized the upper end of a complete stabilization project as being $3.4 million, the most expensive option Goddard outlined on Tuesday was for as much as $3.7 million.

Neither Johnson nor Rebecca White, who, as vice chairwoman, led the meeting in the absence of Chairman Dick Grassi, said they were leaning toward any particular short-term solution yet.

The Selectboard will gather more information before making a final decision, they said.

“For me, what’s really important is the long-term solution,” White said.

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

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