Interstate bridges: Rusty, shaky, ill-maintained

VERNON — Judging by the chatter of newly minted bridge aesthetes [“We need more time to consider Interstate 91 bridge designs,” Letters, Aug. 22], apparently the existing steel arch bridges on which Route 91 crosses the West River are beautiful, artistic works of civil engineering, while the proposed concrete spans are irredeemably ugly.


Let's think about this. The existing bridges are rusty, shaky, and ill-maintained. They are not positive features of the landscape. They are not unique, not artistic, not graceful, not something you look forward to seeing (the way you might if your daily commute were across the Golden Gate Bridge, let's say, or locally, across the Dummerston covered bridge).

If you had taken a survey before the replacement project got going, you would not have found much appreciation for the I-91 bridges.

In fact, you'd find that the average person driving Route 30 doesn't notice them at all - the same way, most of the time, most people don't notice the very ugly utility poles and wires that stand along nearly every street and road, together with trees horribly misshapen by the merciless annual hacking required to keep offending branches away from wires.

We hear no complaints about that, we read no letters to the editor about it, because we're essentially blind to it -± just as we were mostly blind to those rusty bridges, before they became an issue.

Some people say that we don't notice the bridges because we can kind of look through them and see the verdant hills beyond.

I don't think that's the case. The reason we don't notice them is that they are not designed to be noticed - in contrast to, for example, the unusual, eye-catching Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston.

Having an eye-catching, unusual design for our local bridges would not be a good idea. The views, in that part of the West River corridor, would then become views of the bridge, not views of the hills, of the river, of the Retreat Meadows. With some kind of “aesthetic” design, we would no longer be able to mentally block the bridge.

The proposed designs of the new bridges will permit better, less obstructed views of the landscape than the view through the lattice of the current bridges.

A year or two after these bridges are built, nobody will take note of them. Similarly, we've become blind to the black traffic light posts and arms that were such an issue in downtown Brattleboro a year or two ago.

What we actually need are plain, utilitarian, functional bridges. If that means concrete, so be it. If that's ugly, so be it.

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