Thursday, Dec. 31
LANESBOROUGH -- Officials are preparing to break ground to rebuild the Berkshire Mall Road, a thoroughfare that has been the subject of widespread complaint and ongoing deterioration since the mid-1990s.

Thanks to a $10 million federal grant through the American Reinvestment and Rehabilitation Act, officials have recently begun soliciting bids for the project, which could begin as early as February, according to Lanesborough Selectman Bill Prendergast, the town's representative to the Baker Hill District board of directors, which administers the roadway.

"There have been a lot of issues, but we're finally there," he said. "It's an important connector and it will do a lot to help the people of Lanesborough and Pittsfield."

The road will be closed for up to a year during the major part of the reconstruction, which is expected to take two years to complete.

Opened in 1989 as a way to ease shoppers' access to the new mall, it quickly became a highly traveled route for trucks and other commercial traffic seeking a faster connection between Route 8 and Route 7.

But county officials have said the road was built improperly, and it quickly started showing signs of deterioration. Today it stands out as a landmark eyesore, a safety hazard and a burden to commerce and economic development.

"A lot of people wouldn't use it," Prendergast said. "That roadway was a vehicle breaker and hard to maintain in the winter.


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Once the road is improved, its use is likely to increase significantly -- as it is the only legal truck route between the two state highways from North Adams to Pittsfield, Prendergast said.

"People avoid using it unless they have to because it beats the crud out a car," said Nathaniel W. Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. "And once it's done, more people will use it because the condition will be so much better."

The new design takes the road on a more direct path between Route 7 and Route 8, bypassing the road that circles the mall. Mall-goers would have to turn off of the road to enter the mall.

"The new road will have appropriate drainage and appropriate sub-base, which the existing roadway does not," Karns said. "Originally, it was not constructed to what were reasonable design standards for what the road was handling and this should resolve those issues for years to come."

The design provides a five-foot shoulder on both sides for bicycling and improved sight distance for drivers. Asphalt from the old road will be crushed and used for subsurface road material. The depth of the subsurface has also been increased in the design.

Once the road is closed, a detour will be imposed using Summer Street and Partridge Road, with a temporary access road installed from Partridge Road into the mall. Prendergast said several informational meetings will be scheduled for residents along the temporary access route, which will see an increased traffic rate during the construction project.

Phase One will rebuild the road from Route 7 to the mall entrance point. Once that is complete, that span will open and the temporary access route will be closed, possibly by early winter of 2010, Prendergast said.

Phase Two will entail the reconstruction of the road from Route 8 to the mall entrance.

"This project is not just important to Lanesborough, it's important to the whole county," said Paul Boudreau, Lanesborough town administrator. "It's a really essential piece of the transportation network in the county because it's a major truck route."