Closed bridge taking a bite out of Bellows Falls businesses - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Closed bridge taking a bite out of Bellows Falls businesses

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"I purchased this store in November of 2000 and it was in that little space next door. And in April of 2002 we moved in here," said Pam Fowler, who owns the local bookstore in Bellows Falls. 

Fowler says when the store was doomed to close over a decade ago, she decided buy it. For years the business was booming, especially from customers coming in on weekends from neighboring New Hampshire towns. "You can hear right now -- normally we would have a lot of traffic passing by, and it's really quieted down," she said. "And if you think that 4,000 cars used to pass over that bridge every day."

But several years ago, the Vilas bridge closed to all traffic, cutting off the town's New Hampshire connection. Although a temporary bridge was built North of Bellows Falls, Fowler says the traffic now goes around the center of town, and businesses have definitely taken a huge hit.
"It made a major impact to the merchants down here," said Tom MacPhee,  Chairman of the Bellows Falls Selectboard. MacPhee says since the bridge has closed business has dropped in town by at least 30 percent. But getting the bridge back open isn't going to be cheap. He says it will cost an estimated $6.6 million. What's even more tricky, MacPhee says, is Vermont only owns a fraction of the bridge, so it is up to New Hampshire to foot the bill. "New Hampshire is going to pick up 93 percent of the bridge -- Vermont 7 percent, so we are not getting their attention. Even though we've been on the short list -- been kicked off the short list -- so I don't even know for sure where we are," MacPhee said.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation says the project is not in its 10-year improvement plan. But MacPhee says they are reaching out to Vermont legislators. Just weeks ago, the selectboard sent a letter to Governor Shumlin asking for help. "Anything -- whether they can encourage New Hampshire to help us, or help them get along and maybe even provide more than 7 percent to help. I don't know, we are just saying what can you do? If anything," MacPhee said.

As for Fowler back at the bookstore, she says local merchants are trying to hold on until the bridge is re-opened. Although the silence can make reading easier, she says it's been too quiet around town.

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