Lebanon bridge project could hamper Plainfield commuters

  • A bridge carrying Trues Brook Road over Bloods Brook in Lebanon, N.H., photographed on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, has been flagged for replacement by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. (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 — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2021 6:33:19 AM
Modified: 11/3/2021 6:33:24 AM

LEBANON — Plainfield officials are raising concerns about a Lebanon plan to replace a red-listed bridge on Trues Brook Road without installing a temporary span, which could result in lengthy detours for Meriden-area commuters for several months.

The Lebanon project, which would not be built until 2023, has an estimated price tag of $4.1 million, and forgoing a temporary bridge would cut costs by $650,000 and enable the construction time to be reduced from over a year to about five months, according to Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland.

But the decision to effectively close the road at the bridge — which crosses Bloods Brook about 500 feet east of Derby Lane — would also leave seven Lebanon property owners, including the Grafton County Fish and Game Association and several homeowners, reliant on mutual aid from Plainfield or Lebanon’s downtown fire station during construction. They would also be subject to the same detours as their Meriden neighbors, using either Route 120 or Stage Road, to get to Lebanon or West Lebanon, which could add as much as 10 to 15 minutes one way.

“I’m not very happy,” said Jeff Bellimer, a Lebanon resident who works at Hypertherm and lives about 100 yards east of the bridge. “It’s going to add an extra half-hour of commuting time for me.”

About 1,100 vehicles a day use Trues Brook Road, which is known as Willow Brook Road, or just the Brook Road, in Plainfield.

“We are aware that this will be a great burden and will work diligently to ensure the disruption is as short in duration as possible,” Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland said last week in a letter to affected Lebanon residents and Plainfield officials, notifying them of the decision.

At a site meeting in June with area residents, officials had said the project would include the installation of a temporary bridge. But the project was estimated to cost $2.8 million when originally included in the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s 10-year Transportation Plan, which the state reduced to $2.2 million, far below the more recent estimated $4.1 million cost from the city’s project engineer, his letter said.

Because the state would fund only 80% of the $2.2 million project cost included in the 10-year plan — in this case $1.76 million — Lebanon taxpayers would have to pay about $2.3 million, including the temporary bridge, Mulholland said.

“We cannot sustain those kind of cost increases,” he said Tuesday.

Plainfield Town Administrator Steve Halleran said his town is sympathetic to the cost problem Lebanon is facing but noted that the road is one of the three major commuting routes in town. “A third or more of the town uses Brook Road to get up to Lebanon,” Halleran said.

To get to one of the supermarkets in West Lebanon from Meriden Village using Stage Road instead of Trues Brook Road could add 20-30 minutes to a round trip, effectively doubling the length, he noted. A closure would also affect teachers and other staff bound for Kimball Union Academy in Meriden.

“It’s the time frame that’s such an issue for us,” Halleran said of the months the road might be closed to thru-traffic. “We could make arrangements for a week or two, but five months — that’s a long time.”

Plainfield Fire Chief Bill Taylor said fire trucks from the Meriden department normally use Stage Road to get to Route 12A, but he said commuters from Cornish Flat also use the Brook Road.

“It’s going to cramp our style, for sure,” Taylor said.

Halleran wrote that Lebanon officials suggest the two municipalities collaborate to rent and install a temporary bridge, noting that Enfield has had one on hand. But Lebanon Department of Public Works Director James Donison responded via email, “It is not really the cost of the temporary bridge itself, it is the entire permitting process, the site preparation, the bridge installation process, the demobilization, the construction oversight. All those costs add up substantially.”

Mulholland on Tuesday said he welcomed Plainfield’s offer to help and said one avenue was to lobby Concord to boost funding for the project. Cost estimates increased in part from labor shortages and rising construction costs, he said.

“We’re certainly going to continue our discussions with Plainfield, but right now that’s where it stands,” Mulholland said. “We need to put pressure on the DOT to fully fund the project like they are supposed to. That’s what we need to do.”

The narrow bridge is deemed “structurally deficient” and the project would install “a new bridge that can safely accommodate all forms of traffic,” with 11-foot-wide lanes and two 5-foot shoulders, Mulholland’s letter said. It also would involve the reconstruction of about 900 feet of Trues Brook Road. The final design process is expected to run into 2022, with construction taking place in 2023.

Plainfield residents said a temporary bridge was used decades ago when the bridge was last replaced.

John Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.

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