Pittsfield railroad removal on hold

Monday June 18, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Only a signature is needed for the project to proceed. But the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority plans to seek more information from the state before allowing the CSX to demolish a railroad bridge on Woodlawn Avenue.

Despite verbal assurances from state officials and local legislators that the bridge's replacement is a top priority, PEDA last week decided it needed more detailed information from the state Department of Transportation before giving the project the go-ahead.

The DOT has indicated that it will replace the PEDA-owned bridge if the CSX Railroad takes it down, but there is no guarantee. The most recent estimates indicate that the project won't be completed until the end of 2015 depending on the availability of funding.

The DOT is fixing 31 CSX railroad bridges in Western Massachusetts so that the company can run double-stack freight cars from its base in Selkirk, N.Y. to Worcester. The state originally planned to replace just the center span of the Woodlawn Avenue bridge, but plans now call for the replacement of the entire bridge. General Electric trans ferred ownership of the bridge parcel to PEDA last November.

The bridge has already been closed for six years. When fully open, Woodlawn Avenue provides north-south access through the William Stanley Business Park of the Berk shires between East and Tyler streets, which PEDA members have said is crucial to attracting tenants to the 52-acre parcel.

PEDA's Executive Director Cory Thurston has been reluctant to sign the agreement until the details are more concrete, because holding out gives the quasi-public agency charged with developing the Stanley Business Park leverage in making sure the bridge is replaced.

Thurston said that the state will be in default if PEDA doesn't sign the agreement to allow the CSX Railroad to take down the span. But the board's attorney, Elizabeth Goodman, said the state can take the property by eminent domain within 60 days if PEDA doesn't act.

"I'm not sure they will take it," Goodman said. "But they do have that legal authority."

Following a long debate, the board agreed to adopt Good man's suggestion to determine where the bridge project is ranked on the DOT's list of transportation improvement projects before deciding to sign the agreement.

The board doesn't meet again until Aug. 8, but Chair man Gary Grunin said a meeting could be scheduled for July depending on the outcome of this matter.

Judging from the debate, it was clear that PEDA was split on how to proceed. Board members George Whaling and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi were in favor of waiting, while Thurston was interested in moving forward.

"We're being asked to sign off to remove a bridge that we critically need with no guarantee as to timing as to when that is going to be replaced," Whaling said.

Thurston said the decision to proceed was at "the board's pleasure," adding that he was in favor of moving forward now. He said "a lot of other projects in Berkshire County may or may not be impacted by this decision."

Bianchi said the city has received verbal assurances from state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey that the DOT considers replacement of the bridge a priority, and that funds leftover from other completed projects could be used to hasten the process.

"He was very reassuring to me," Bianchi said. "But once again it's great to have a nice conversation on the phone ..."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
(413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow


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