State closes two Francestown bridges
Francestown will have to examine options for repairing two bridges closed by the Department of Transportation that were originally scheduled for replacement in the fiscal years of 2015 and 2016.
(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
The N.H. Department of Transportation has closed two bridges in Francestown.
(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
The bridge on Woodward Hill Road in Francestown was closed last week following a state inspection.
FRANCESTOWN — Two Francestown bridges already scheduled for repair a few years down the road, were abruptly shut down last week, leaving town officials scrambling to find short-term solutions and many residents facing long-term detours.
A state inspection on Dec. 4 determined bridges on both the 2nd N.H. Turnpike and Woodward Hill Road have critical deficiencies, which led the N.H. Department of Transportation to immediately close the bridges until they’re repaired.
While both bridges are in line to receive state funds for repair, Francestown won’t be seeing those funds for another couple of years. The DOT informed the town after an inspection of the bridges last week that neither bridge is in a state to carry legal traffic weights. The DOT told the town the bridges should be shut down until they can be replaced.
The first bridge affected is the bridge on Second N.H. Turnpike South, over the south branch of the Piscataquog River, about a mile past the Francestown Elementary School in the direction of Lyndeborough. The bridge was scheduled to be replaced in 2015.
The other bridge is on Woodward Hill Road, over Brennan Brook, which was closed due to serious safety issues. The Woodward Hill Road bridge was intended to be replaced in 2016.
“I know it will be a great inconvenience to the people and businesses in Francestown to have these bridges closed, especially the 2nd N.H. Turnpike, but we really have no choice,” Select Board Chair Betsy Hardwick wrote in a press release dated Dec. 5. “The town is currently exploring all reasonable options to reopen these bridges in a timely manner.”
Preliminary reports show the majority of the damage is due to rusting, according to Selectman Scott Carbee in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Monday. “Metal fatigue and deterioration from the acid water was the primary cause of it,” he said. “The acidity of the water causes the culverts to rust fast. It’s not ground movement, not failed abutments, it’s basically rust.”
Both bridges are owned by the town of Francestown and, while getting state aid is an option, according to the town’s administrative coordinator Mike Branley in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Monday, the bill for the upcoming repairs will be Francestown’s responsibility.
In February, the town drafted a five-year Capital Improvement Plan, which included $50,000 in a capital reserve funds to rehabilitate four flagged bridges, including both the 2nd N.H. Turnpike and Woodward Hill Road bridges. According to Carbee, those funds are the only ones to have been set aside in preparation of the bridges’ replacement. The other two bridges in need of work are the bridges on Juniper Hill Road and South New Boston Road.
While town officials were aware of problems with the bridges, they expected to be able to continue to use them until their scheduled replacement.
“I’m pretty disappointed at the state level that they failed to communicate with us. I feel we should have had more warning,” Carbee said.
And while it was a decision at the state level to close the bridge, anticipated state funds to repair them still remain several years in the future, and there are no plans by the DOT to move the Francestown bridges forward on the schedule, said Carbee. If the town wants to have the bridges opened prior to those dates, it will have to pay for the repairs on its own.
The town is currently looking at the possibility of opening at least one of the bridges in a short time period, according to Branley.
“The town is considering which one to replace,” said Branley. “Based on the preliminary review, the Woodward Hill Road bridge would be less expensive because it’s the smaller bridge.”
There is another reason to look at Woodward Hill Road first, Carbee said. It’s an alternate route for those looking to avoid the closed bridge on the 2nd N.H. Turnpike. But since the bridge is closed on Woodward Hill Road , most of the traffic is being funneled through Red House Road and Cross Road.
“If you’re aware of the closures ahead of time, it is possible to avoid them,” said Branley.
But the alternate routes are far from ideal, according to Carbee.
“That’s a death trap for any semi-trailer,” said Carbee about detouring on Red House Road. “It’s in the middle of a blind hill.”
Cross Road has a single lane bridge, so it’s also unsuited to diverting the heavy amount of traffic that travels the turnpike, which can be almost 900 cars a day, said Carbee. The turnpike passes the elementary school and is a common route to Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Francestown. Francestown Elementary School has created a new route for its school bus to accommodate the closed road, and the ski resort has begun to advise customers of alternate roads to the slopes, Branley said.
“To me that’s a pretty heavily trafficked road,” Carbee said, referring to 2nd N.H. Turnpike. “Something is going to have to be done.”
Currently the most likely scenario facing the town is implementing a temporary deck replacement for Woodward Hill Road, according to Carbee. That way, there would be an alternate route available while the turnpike remains closed.
“We know 2nd N.H. Turnpike bridge is a goner for awhile. We’re concentrating our efforts on Woodward Hill right now. We have to get the pressure off Red House Road and Cross Road,” he said.
The Select Board will have to discuss how they would pay for a deck replacement in the coming weeks, said Carbee. There hasn’t been discussion whether the board will be asking for funds in March through either a warrant article or through a capital reserve fund, but taxpayers can expect to see some discussion about it. “This is definitely going to be a big point of discussion at Town Meeting,” he said.
The bridge closures were effective on Dec. 5. At this time, the Select Board does not have a concrete time frame or cost estimate for repairs to either of the bridges that would allow them to reopen to traffic.
The Select Board was expected to continue discussing options for bridge repairs at Mondays Select Board meeting.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.