Over troubled waters: Heavily traveled bridge in Lee downgraded by state

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LEE — Structural issues have been discovered on an aging, well-traveled bridge over the Housatonic River, causing the state to set a weight limit on the span until it can be repaired or replaced.

The change will cause a hardship for at least two local businesses that rely on large commercial vehicles to haul heavy loads across the span.

In the wake of a recent inspection, the state Department of Transportation has ordered town officials to post weight limits for the West Park Street, according to Lee Department of Public Works Superintendent Christopher Pompi.

He told the Select Board on Tuesday night the town has 45 days to erect the signs indicating a maximum 33-ton limit for any one vehicle crossing the bridge. Currently, the bridge doesn't have a weight limit.

"[MassDOT] has downgraded the bridge because of two beams and replacing them won't be easy," he said. "No one from the state has given us an idea how to fix them."

The bridge was constructed in 1890 and rebuilt in 1932 to last 75 years, municipal officials said.

One option would be to run new beams alongside the deficient ones — at an unknown cost — returning the bridge to an unlimited weight rating.

To replace the span would cost at least $6.2 million, according to Town Administrator Robert Nason, who noted the estimate includes spending $450,000 to design and engineer the new crossing.

"Those figures were determined in December and those numbers are [fluid]," he told the Selectmen.

The bridge links the center of town to Marble Street where L B Corp. and Oldcastle are among several companies that 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.

Until a temporary or permanent fix, truckers will have to lighten their freight — typically truckloads up to 40 tons — to accommodate the weight restriction.

"It means we're hauling less each load and that will cost more and is going to double our truck traffic," said L B Corp Vice President Steve Garrity.

A detour is 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 found deficiencies in four aging spans in Lee, which would cost a total of $11.5 million to replace, town officials 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 has been hired to make temporary bridge repairs to boost its weight limit, the $9,900 cost being shared by Lee and Lenox.

In all, Lee has depleted — in three years — the $935,000 set aside for bridge repairs, according to town officials.

Officials are currently lobbying the state Legislature for their approval of local gasoline tax the town would assess the eight gas retailers within its borders, including the two on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The anticipated $100,000 or more would help offset Lee's mounting road and bridge repairs.

Selectmen also are advocating for a streamlined design process they say could significantly reduce the overall expense of bridge replacement.

"The state could already have several types of bridge plans designed and stamped and all you would do is apply for the one you want," said Selectman David Consolati.

Selectman Thomas Wickham added, "The state makes use spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to design the same bridge."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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