Report: Recommended Aesthetic Criteria for the Replacement I-91 Bridge Over the West River

The group was then randomly broken out into four subgroups to solicit more detailed responses about desired aesthetics of the replacement bridge, as prompted by a list of six questions.  Participants were also invited to draw different design options to communicate desired bridge forms and spatial relationships.  The goal for each subgroup was to report out what, if any, agreement they were able to reach on desirable aesthetic attributes the replacement bridge should have.   The group as a whole was reconvened and each subgroup presented its consensus aesthetic criteria.

Recommended Aesthetic Criteria

Going into the process we were not sure what, if any, consensus might emerge as to the aesthetic qualities the replacement bridge should possess.  Interestingly, each of the four groups presented very similar desired characteristics, and this general consensus forms the basis for the recommended aesthetic criteria presented here.        

  • The bridge should function as a gateway to the region and Vermont not only to travelers on Route 30, but also to travelers on I-91.  It was noted that Bridge 9 presents the first open vista, and first view of the Connecticut River complex, on I-91 in Vermont.  The bridge form should call attention to the uniqueness of the place.  The bridge form and structure should not be generic.
  • The bridge should call attention to the surrounding landscape without dominating it.  It should have a less-dominant presence than the present bridge.
  • The structure of the bridge should include some form of graceful arch or arches, with a preference towards an arch or arches that are higher and tighter to the bridge deck than what currently exists.  From Route 30 and the West River, the arch/arches should draw the eye up the valley and emphasize the surrounding landscape.
  • The guardrails on the deck should have equal or better transparency to that which currently exists so travelers on I-91 are able to see through to the river and up and down the Valley.  This need not preclude higher railings.  In fact, some participants expressed opinions that higher railings might make them feel safer, but these railings should provide outward views.
  • The preferred materials for bridge construction are concrete and/or stone.  If concrete, is used, it is suggested that it be given the texture of stone.
  • The color of the bridge should be muted, and blend in with the background rather than contrasting sharply.  Earth tones for all materials were preferred.  The use of concrete dye or stain could be explored.
  • Abutments should not extend beyond the river’s edge and should be kept out of river.

Two other elements that were of interest to the participants, but not directly associated with the bridge construction are as follows:

  • The design should create or improve the pull off on Route 30 as both a safety improvement and amenity.
  • The design should consider a bike/ped addition to the structure to get people to and from trails on either side of the West River.  At a minimum, the design should allow for future construction of a bike/ped addition if it is not feasible to include it presently.

We appreciate the willingness of VTrans to solicit public input into the design of this bridge.  The design of a bridge that is unique to this river crossing – the first open vista along Interstate 91 in Vermont – represents an opportunity not only for the Windham Region and the West River Valley/Route 30 corridor, but for the state as a whole.  We feel certain that a creative team can design a bridge that will become a landmark, and that will fit within the project budget. 

 A copy of the presentation, notes from the meeting, participant sketches, and the letter to VTrans containing recommended aesthetic criteria for the bridge are below.

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