Pittsfield officials enthuse over Woodlawn bridge opening

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Photo Gallery | Woodlawn Avenue Bridge opens

Video | The bridge on Woodlawn Avenue in Pittsfield is open following a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

PITTSFIELD — An attractive new Woodlawn Avenue Bridge reopened under pale June skies on Monday, connecting East Street and the Tyler Street business district for the first time in a decade.

"This is a historic day," Corydon Thurston, executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, told an exuberant gathering of about 50 local and state officials for the official ribbon-cutting.

The $4.5 million, state-funded span crosses the CSX railroad tracks and affords a panoramic view of Silver Lake, the William Stanley Business Park — which PEDA manages — and the Tyler Street and East Street corridors. The link, which was severed when the aging original bridge was taken down, was restored only after a concerted, long-term effort by multiple partners, Thurston said.

"I'm convinced this will quickly become a very popular route," he said. "It will provide some much needed visibility for the William Stanley Business Park, boost entrepreneurial opportunities on Tyler Street, and be a tremendous enhancement for public safety response times through this city."

Thurston thanked state MassDOT officials, area legislative leaders, PEDA board members, city officials and GE for working toward the common goal of reconstructing the bridge, rather than simply removing the former structure.

Thurston said he quickly came to understand the importance of the bridge after he became executive director in 2010 and began to push for the project's completion.

Officials with GE, which previously owned the Stanley Business Park property and the bridge; state transportation planners and policymakers, and the city, which had to approve an easement agreement with PEDA to make the drive over the bridge as a public street, had to cooperate in the effort.

Local state legislators also played a key role, Thurston said, adding that Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, "came to the rescue, along with the other legislators of our local delegation, to secure the balance of the funding" — closing a gap that threatened to stall the project.

"All of this has been done in a little over three years," Thurston said, adding that such complex projects often take much longer to complete.

"None of this get done by one person," Downing said. "All of it requires the assistance of any number of team partners. At different times, we could have said we are going to have to make do without a bridge, we're going to have to settle for not connecting neighborhoods. ... Thanks to many dedicated partners, we didn't settle for that."

Downing added, "I think there's a lesson: We should not settle here in Pittsfield."

Francisca Heming, the MassDOT District 1 director, said the state agency was committed to the project, "but we wouldn't be here without so many people pushing to get this project built."

She and others praised Thurston's key role in recognizing "how important this is to the economic development of Pittsfield."

The project "is an example of what transportation is about — connecting neighborhoods," Heming said. "Thank you all for a job well done; it was terrific."

Officials interviewed at the event cited the potential the reopened span could spur both within the Stanley Park, along East Street and in the Tyler Street corridor and Morningside neighborhood.

PEDA is planning the Berkshire Innovation Center in the 52-acre business park and has other parcels available for development. And a revival of the Tyler Street business district is being mapped with a state-funded planner under the Transformative District Initiative program.

Diana Marcela, president of the Tyler Street Business Group, said, "I can't say enough to thank all you here."

She and Morgan Ovitsky of Be Well Berkshires noted that the 2.5-mile Morningside Walking Loop is now officially complete, along with the bridge project. The walk is an initiative of Be Well Berkshires and Healthy Pittsfield, with sponsorship from the Tyler Street Business Group, Berkshire Health Systems and the city.

The bridge project was a strong example of many officials and the private sector working together "at the policy level and at the local level," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

"This is a great day for all the collaborative efforts to have this come to fruition," said Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Morandi. He said the entire area could now open up to new development.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said he believes the impact will be greater than expected for pedestrian traffic between neighborhoods across East Street and along Tyler Street, providing business opportunities.

"This has been a long time coming," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli, who adding that the arched bridge and the views have transformed the area.

Councilor at large Peter White, who lived on nearby Plunkett Street for many years, said the bridge should "cement neighborhoods" that have been separated for a decade.

City Council President Peter Marchetti, representing Mayor Linda M. Tyer at the event, said the project "symbolizes a pathway to united neighborhoods" in the city.

The bridge had been closed to traffic since 2006. GE transferred the road and bridge to PEDA in 2011, and an agreement was reached in 2012 with the state and CSX railroad for the demolition and reconstruction of the bridge. The new arched span also improves the rail right of way to allow CSX to transport double-stack containers.

The old Woodlawn Avenue bridge was torn down in July 2012. It was one of 31 CSX railroad bridges that MassDOT was upgrading across the state so the company could run double-stack rail cars from its base in Selkirk, N.Y., to Worcester. The old bridge was 15 inches lower than the height CSX required for its new rail cars.

City Director of Public Services David Turocy said signaling for the East Street and Tyler Street intersections has been adjusted to accommodate the opening of the bridge and further intersection changes are under consideration, depending on available funding and development in the area.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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