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Road, Bridge Building Season Has Begun Within Vermont, New Hampshire's Upper Valley

Tue May 30, 2023 - Northeast Edition #13
Valley News

As any New England motorist who has driven over the Connecticut River on Interstate 89 or tried to get from Thetford, Vt., to Lyme, N.H., can tell you, road construction season in the two states' shared Upper Valley began its annual ramp up in May.

In the interest of spending less time in traffic, the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., has provided a look at where roads and bridges are under construction in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire this summer.

River Bridge Work Linking Both States Are Ongoing

In a river valley, the biggest choke points are bridges, and three key ones are under construction this summer that connect the two New England states.

In addition to the Lyme-Thetford bridge, which is slated to be closed until October 2024, and the I-89 bridges over the Connecticut River, slated to be built through 2025, the Ledyard Bridge linking Hanover, Vt., and Norwich, N.H., also is under construction. A $2.8 million rehabilitation of the structure includes repaving and improving the expansion joints and deck membrane. It also will replace the raised median with a painted one.

As the job progresses, the dedicated turn lane onto Tuck Drive in Hanover will be closed.

With the Lyme-Thetford bridge closed, the Ledyard Bridge also is likely to see more traffic. Vehicles leaving Hanover over the bridge occasionally back up to the town's Dartmouth Green.

Further south on the I-89 bridges over the river at West Lebanon, traffic will shift to new temporary lanes under construction between the two spans, enabling work on the northbound structure. That bridge work often causes backups as well, but transportation officials in both states said contractors clear out early on holiday weekends to allow for the heavier flow of traffic.

"Our construction bureau tells [contractors] to wrap it up and get out of the way," Richard Arcand, a spokesperson of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT), said in a phone interview with Valley News.

Just east of the river bridges, some work remains to be done on the nearby spans over U.S. Highway 4 and the Mascoma River at I-89 Exit 19, Arcand noted.

Vermont Also Has Its Share of Summer Construction

On the west side of the river, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) will begin work on the I-89 southbound bridge over the White River in West Hartford sometime in July. Jeremy Salvatori, a project manager at VTrans, told Valley News that the six- to eight-week project will entail closing one lane at a time while workers repair expansion joints.

Crews also are under way on several bridges along I-91 from Fairlee through St. Johnsbury, with traffic down to one lane on most of them and the speed limit reduced to 55 mph. VTrans regards the work as "preventative maintenance."

In addition, the replacement of a railroad bridge on Vt. 14 in Royalton means the underpass is still only one-way, though now it has traffic lights during construction. The project is due to last into 2024, and Vt. 14 will be closed for up to 21 days next summer when the bridge is finally rebuilt, and the narrow road is realigned into a two-lane highway.

Although not a bridge project, VTrans also plans to replace a culvert on Vt. 113 at the Thetford-West Fairlee line. The project will close the state highway on June 24-25 to remove the aging metal drainage tunnel and install a much larger concrete box culvert. Before and after the replacement, the road will be down to one lane while work is taking place.

Time to Hit the Pavement With New Asphalt

Many paving projects are so small, lasting only a day or two, that NHDOT does not post information about them, but the repaving of 4 mi. of N.H. 11 between Claremont and Newport, one of the busiest roads in the area, is an important effort, according to Valley News. Work started May 22, Arcand said, and was expected to last three weeks.

Additionally, parts of N.H. 120 and N.H. 12A, from Claremont north to Cornish, are slated for repaving and guardrail work. Much of U.S. 4A, from Lebanon to Andover, also is due to be repaved in August and early September.

In Hanover, the town's public works department will resurface Lyme Road from Park Street to the roundabout at Reservoir Road, as well as South Street, Currier Place, Dorrance Place, and Sanborn Road. Town officials have not yet decided on a start date for both projects.

In early September, NHDOT also plans to repave part of Etna Road in Hanover.

The city of Lebanon will soon perform its $1.7 million replacement of the 1958 cast iron water main on Miracle Mile, a project expected to wrap up in 2024, Valley News learned. The roadwork extends about a mile from the Terry Dudley Bridge east on U.S. 4 to the area around Buckingham Place.

The construction will mostly be done through two-lane alternating traffic, with a single lane restriction in use "as little as possible, and mostly at night," explained Lebanon Public Works Director Jay Cairelli.

In addition, the city also will continue its repaving of 1.3 mi. of Poverty Lane, a rural road.

The biggest state paving project on the Vermont side of the Upper Valley appears to be the resurfacing of Vt. 107 from the intersection of Vt. 12 in Bethel to the intersection of Vt. 100 in Stockbridge.

This job is a shallow repaving designed to extend the life of 10 mi. of roadway, big chunks of which were rebuilt after heavy damage from 2011's Tropical Storm Irene. A surprisingly busy highway in a rural area of central Vermont, it connects the state's Upper Valley to Rutland and points west.

More Construction Funds Available, But Fewer Workers

It seems reasonable to expect that there will be more construction projects coming online this summer, Valley News reported, what with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) pouring into Vermont's and New Hampshire's coffers.

But the funding cannot create construction workers out of thin air, so the number of projects and the amount of money spent is roughly constant, VTrans officials told the news source.

"The construction budget is similar to last year [at] approximately $280 million," noted Jeremy Reed, a VTrans construction engineer, in a written statement. "It is difficult to quantify on an annual basis because projects are funded, and some are multiyear projects — it is not a set annual amount. We received a 28 percent increase in funding with the IIJA.

"Inflation and labor shortages have driven costs up," he added. "It's tough to assign an exact value because there are so many other factors, but certainly a construction project is significantly more expensive today than it was three years ago."

It is possible to assign numbers to specific materials, though.

For instance, Bradford, Vt., held off on paving last year because the cost of asphalt was around $90 per ton, explained Phil Page, the town's longtime road supervisor. Now that the current quoted price is just shy of $80 per ton, he said Bradford will pave parts of Goshen and South roads this summer.

In New Hampshire, Arcand said his state generally spends $300 million a year on road projects. In 2023, there is another $30 million in the NHDOT coffers, a 10 percent increase.

"The IIJA funds were added to the current 10-year plan and will help cover the increases in labor and material costs on current and future projects," he elaborated.

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