Thursday July 5, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Although it still has nothing in writing, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority apparently has re ceived enough assurances from the state that the Woodlawn Street railroad bridge will be replaced if the CSX Railroad takes it down.

During a special meeting on Tuesday, PEDA’s board voted 4-0 in favor of signing a contract that will allow CSX to demolish the outmoded span that runs through the Will iam Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

PEDA delayed acting on the project at its June meeting because it had received nothing but verbal assurances that the state De partment of Transportation would construct a new bridge if the old one was taken down.

But PEDA’s executive director, Cory Thurston, said recent activity on the state level has convinced the board that the time to act is now.

"The bottom line is we have received verbal assurances that construction of the bridge is a top priority when funding is most likely to be available," Thurston said. "They’ve started the design activity."

It is expected that state funding for the design phase of the new bridge will be available during fiscal 2013, which began on Sunday. Funding for the span’s construction is expected to be ready by fiscal 2014, according to Thurston.

"We hope to have the bridge done by 2014," he said.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Michael Matthews, George Whaling and Mick Callahan were the board members who voted in favor of signing the contract, Thurston said. The board’s three other members were not in attendance.

Bianchi said he was "much more comfortable" about signing the contract now then he was last month, because the DOT and the county’s state legislative contingent have described the replacement of the bridge as a "top priority."

The board on Tuesday also approved a modification of the bridge’s original maintenance agreement, which dates back to 1906, and gave Thurston the authorization to enter into an access agreement with the DOT that will allow them to perform the design study for the new span.

When fully open, Wood lawn Avenue provides north-south access through the 52 acre Stanley Business Park between Tyler and East streets, which PEDA members have said is crucial to attracting additional clients to the parcel. The section of Woodlawn between Kellogg and East streets that includes the bridge has been closed for six years.

The DOT is currently fixing 31 CSX Railroad bridges, including six in Western Massachusetts, so that the rail company can run double stack freight cars from its base in Selkirk, N.Y. to Worcester.

The original plans called for just the center span of the Woodlawn Avenue bridge to be replaced, but they were amended to include a replacement of the entire bridge.

PEDA was unable to act on replacing the bridge until last November, when General Electric transferred ownership of the three-acre parcel that contains the span to the quasi-public organization that is responsible for the business park’s development.

GE previously had granted CSX permission to replace the bridge, but the state couldn’t provide the funding as long as the property was owned by a private entity.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224