Our Opinion: Provide towns with options needed to fix bridges

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The structural problems plaguing the West Park Street bridge in Lee is the latest indicator of a statewide problem that can't be put off any longer.

The state Department of Transportation has ordered the town to post weight limits for the bridge because of newly discovered structural issues (Eagle, April 7). The bridge was rebuilt in 1932 to last 75 years, so the bridge-builders of that era did their job. The bridge-builders of this era must now do their's.

The problem, of course, is money, or the lack of it. Replacing the span would cost roughly $6 million according to Town Administrator Robert Nason, and Lee doesn't have it handy. It has to be replaced for a variety of reasons, most notably because Lee employers LB Corp and Oldcastle need to send commercial vehicles carrying heavy loads across it.

Beacon Hill has not provided communities with enough money to repair or replace decaying bridges. State Highway Administrator Thomas Timlin, speaking in favor of Governor Baker's proposed $50 million bridge program, told the House Bonding Committee that there is a "critical need" to take on the state's bridge woes (Eagle, April 1). As Mr. Timlin advised the committee, the money should be distributed by need, not rationed equally among highway districts.

The bridge program should be approved, but even if is, it will not address all of the state's declining bridges. It would cost $11.2 million to address Lee's four failing bridges and the town has spent the modest $935,000 set aside for the project. And there are plenty of towns throughout the state with bridge issues like those in Lee.

The Legislature must help towns help themselves, and one way is by approving a local gas tax enabling communities to raise funds for local projects. Lee Selectmen David Consolati and Thomas Wickham note that the state could reduce costs by designing several types of bridges for towns to choose from. If the state can't fund every bridge project it must give towns more options to deal with them locally.


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