LEE — The West Park Street bridge is back at full strength.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has lifted the weight limit agency officials imposed this spring fearing the bridge over the Housatonic River couldn't handle any vehicle over 33 tons.
MassDOT also has removed the weight restriction on the Valley Street bridge linking Lee and Lenox, as temporary repairs have strengthened that span over the Housatonic River.
Removing both restrictions means the heavy commercial truck traffic — typically carrying 40-ton loads — can freely cross the bridges again. The weight limit was seen as an economic hardship by several local business owners and town officials.
State transportation officials posted a weight limit on the West Park Street bridge in April after a visual inspection led them to believe the beams were failing on the bridge, which was constructed in 1890 and rebuilt in 1932 to last 75 years.
But a more thorough test found it was in better shape than the state's inspection suggested, according to Lee Department of Public Works Superintendent Christopher Pompi.
"The steel beams put in [decades ago] were stronger than expected," he said.
Pompi praised Gill Engineering Associates of Needham for saving the town millions in repairs — for now.
"They had 87 pages of calculations to show everything was fine," he said. "They are a leading authority for bridges."
Local and state officials had indicated running new beams along the old ones — at an unknown cost — was one option to returning the bridge to an unlimited weight rating.
To replace the span would cost at least $6.2 million, according to town officials, who noted the estimate includes spending $450,000 to design and engineer the new crossing.
"We could at least design a new bridge and have it on the shelf ready to build, if suddenly something happens to the bridge," Pompi said.
The bridge links the center of town to Marble Street, where L B Corp., Oldcastle and other companies rely on large commercial vehicles to haul heavy loads to and from their businesses. L B Corp, is primarily a contracting and road construction firm that hauls various manmade and natural building materials. Oldcastle produces lime and other stone-based products.
The weight restriction forced truckers to lighten their freight, costing the affected companies money by running more trucks, increasing the already burgeoning truck traffic in downtown Lee.
A detour was out of the question as there's no alternate truck route to bypass the bridge. Thru truck traffic isn't allowed from the opposite end of Marble Street via Route 102.
In total, the state had found deficiencies in four aging spans in Lee, which would have cost a total of $11.5 million to replace, town officials have said.
The list also includes the Valley Street bridge across the Housatonic linking Crystal Street in Lenox to a commercial complex in Lee, where L B Corp has an additional facility.
MassDOT earlier this year downgraded that bridge, too, as it has exceeded its 75-year life expectancy. L B Corp was been hired to make temporary repairs to boost its weight limit, with Lee and Lenox sharing the $9,900 cost.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.