GREAT BARRINGTON — Motorists noticed a change in the Great Barrington traffic pattern this week as the Bridge Street bridge was closed to traffic Monday and Tuesday, cutting off one of the town's most popular shortcuts.
"[The] bridge is closed effective immediately due to a traffic safety issue," the town said in a press release Monday evening.
The notice said the bridge would reopen Tuesday, but it remained closed to through traffic until Wednesday afternoon. One lane of the bridge is open for two-way traffic, controlled by a temporary traffic light.
The town-owned bridge is undergoing repairs in conjunction with a number of unrelated projects surrounding the development of the Bridge Street corridor that runs from the south end of the boutique Main and Railroad street block past the Housatonic River to the east.
The project is aimed at shoring up the structure, which was built in 1951 and only narrowly passed an inspection back in 2012. Approximately 8,200 vehicles use the bridge daily, a number that will only increase as the corridor becomes further developed.
The renovation, which was approved in April 2015, is being performed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's preferred bridge contractor MIG Corp.
The department and the town are splitting the cost of the project, which is expected to last for six to eight months.
"I am very pleased that the public sector was able to make the investment for the private sector to move forward," said Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin.
That public sector investment is ongoing. The fire district redid the water mains in August. Next up after the bridge project is a MassWorks grant for sidewalks, streets and utilities on the corridor. The town has invested approximately $2 million into the latter project with another $1 million coming from the grant.
The public works projects are coming as the corridor sees increased private investment. The Southern Berkshire Community Development Corp. is constructing affordable housing on two acres of the former Log Homes site on 100 Bridge St., across the bridge and the river to the east. The remaining six acres are expected to be developed over the next few years.
On the Main Street side of the bridge, local hotelier Vijay Mahida is redeveloping the Searles Middle School into an 88-room upscale hotel to be called The Berkshire. And closer to Main Street, the Benchmark Development Group is building a four story mixed use retail and housing space on the old Laundromat site for the Berkshire Co-Op market and other tenants as well as a three-story residential building to the back of where the Co-op building currently stands.
All the changes have sparked some local backlash, most notably against the hotel and the affordable housing. But Tabakin thinks that's just part of the growing pains of the town.
"We all value the uniqueness here and we don't want to lose that," she said. "People are very engaged."