STOCKBRIDGE — The town must repair or replace at least two failing bridges at a potential cost of up to several million dollars or face a possible shutdown of a key state highway connecting Stockbridge and Lenox.
That was the grim message from the Select Board at its Monday night meeting before at least 100 concerned residents.
Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale has alerted the selectmen about a small but deteriorating bridge on Route 183 directly south of Berkshire Country Day School. The state Department of Transportation has described the structure as "something close" to failure, said Selectman Stephen Shatz.
On the same highway, near the Berkshire Botanical Gardens adjacent to Route 102, the bridge over Larrywaug Brook is also in bad shape, Shatz pointed out.
If either bridge is shut down, he noted, traffic between the "four corners" intersection of Routes 183 and 102 in Stockbridge and destinations such as BCD, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, and Tanglewood could be severed or seriously disrupted.
"We need to have a discussion about how we're going to address these issues," Shatz stated, involving Tisdale and the town's Finance Committee.
"You can only begin to imagine how much money is involved in fixing all of these bridges, well over $2.5 million to $3 million," he warned.
A potential bond issue to finance the reconstruction of the bridges would require approval by a special town meeting.
"We now have a whole section of town that will be affected by the closure of these bridges," Shatz pointed out. "There will effectively be no practical way to get from the Norman Rockwell Museum to Kripalu and up to Tanglewood if one or more of these bridges is closed on Route 183."
"This is by way of a heads-up," Shatz added. "It's not the kind of news that anybody wants to hear in this room. But these are old structures, some of them as old as 175 years. They have had some modifications over the years, but we believe that as far as two of them are concerned, there would have to be complete reconstruction."
According to a message to Tisdale from MassDOT engineer Mark DeVylder about the bridge abutting the BCD entrance, "the structure is in serious condition." But since the bridge span is only 8 feet, it does not fall under the department's jurisdiction, according to state law.
"Based on the conditions noted and if MassDOT had a legal responsibility to set safe load carrying capacity, I would either be recommending a closure or significant weight restriction," Devylder stated.
He recommended that the town's consulting engineer, Steve Mack of Foresight Land Services in Pittsfield, explore placing "a structural concrete slab on top of the existing superstructure. MassDOT has utilized this method in numerous locations with great results."
Upon receiving the suggestion, Tisdale asked Mack to prepare a design for the slab and to move ahead with soil borings.
"Overweight vehicles continue to cross other spans with low restrictions," Tisdale noted, "so the only safe alternative is to implement this temporary measure. It will be costly, but we really don't have options other than closure."
Tisdale acknowledged that Route 183 "receives significant volumes of car traffic as well as heavy commercial vehicles that pass over this span each day."
Late last month, state DOT inspectors ordered the shutdown of two small, similar bridges on Averic Road, just off Route 183, in the Interlaken section. Traffic to homes affected is being detoured on nearby roads.
Those bridges had been deteriorating due to erosion and flooding following a five-inch torrential downpour on May 29.
The Old Stone Arch Bridge, off Route 183 in the Curtisville neighborhood, has been closed to vehicles since October 2012 but has been stabilized and is open to pedestrians and bicyclists.
In response to resident Terry Flynn's suggestion at the Select Board meeting that temporary tonnage limits for truck traffic using Route 183 from Stockbridge to Lenox be considered "so we don't wind up with a failed bridge," Shatz said the possibility will be discussed with Tisdale.
"We'd all like to preserve the life of these bridges," Shatz declared. "At the same time, we don't want MassDOT coming in and closing them, and leaving us in a situation where we haven't done something in anticipation of the fact that they're going to fail."
The projects would stretch over two to three years, he told the crowd, including design approval, bidding, bond issue and construction.
"Since I got here in 2008, truck traffic has increased exponentially with the advent of GPS," said Police Chief Darrell Fennelly, who joined the department as an officer six years ago. "These trucks take the shortest route possible and they're using [Route] 183, where eight or 10 years ago, you didn't see it as much."
In a statement e-mailed to The Eagle, MassDOT confirmed that it is conducting formal inspections of state and town-owned bridges with 10- to 20-foot spans.
"This program was initiated to ensure that the State Bridge Engineer, as required by state law, can set the safe load carrying capacity of any bridge on a public way with a span length in excess of 10 feet," the department stated.
Engineers from the MassDOT District 1 office in Lenox began the inspections earlier this year throughout the district's western Massachusetts territory. The department "has closed multiple bridges due to extensive deterioration," according to the statement.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.