LEE — A much-needed $2.8 million replacement bridge over the Housatonic River is now safely and efficiently serving a vital commercial development along the Lee-Lenox border.
In a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, state and local officials formally declared the Valley Street bridge work complete.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said the state-funded project shows how government will support businesses and preserve jobs.
"The investment in infrastructure is critical at this time," Hinds said, referring to the severe economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The new span links 11 businesses employing 120 to 130 people on Valley Street in Lee with Crystal Street in Lenox Dale — the only viable truck route to the industrial complex owned by LB Corp. of Lee.
"This will help preserve jobs in a very vital commercial corridor," said Lee/Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen.
In June 2018, the contractor, Northern Construction of Palmer, began erecting a new single-lane prefabricated steel truss on a concrete deck. The new span is north and at about a 45-degree angle to the deteriorating bridge, which was dismantled.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation engineers have said repositioning the new bridge was needed to improve safety for today's longer tractor-trailers.
The 21st-century span has been in use for a few weeks, getting rave reviews from truckers, according to LB Corp. Vice President Steve Garrity.
"Everyone who crosses the bridge is ecstatic," Garrity said.
Garrity praised Hinds and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, for working with town officials to push the project through MassDOT.
Pignatelli, in turn, praised the family-owned LB Corp. for keeping the original bridge going until the new one was built.
"Any time MassDOT had an issue, the Garritys stepped up and oftentimes repaired the bridge themselves," he said.
Five years ago, upgrades were done to keep the original span open during construction with an unlimited weight capacity. In 2016, MassDOT found the bridge structurally deficient and in poor condition, primarily due to corroded floor beams.
The existing span, built in the 1890s, had its deck replaced in 1983.
MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver, joined by agency Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack, said building a new bridge posed its own challenges.
"This one had a lot of utilities and the Housatonic River," he said.
Water and sewer lines were relocated along the new bridge, which, unlike the old one, allows for foot traffic.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.