PITTSFIELD — A major traffic artery on the south side of Pittsfield will remain obstructed deep into next year — or beyond.
For 18 months, one of two lanes on a Holmes Road bridge has been closed, after inspectors found weakness in some of the wide concrete beams that support the structure. Drivers heading in both directions on the busy route must wait at temporary traffic lights.
The state Department of Transportation said in May 2019 that repairs could start this year, though a spokeswoman cautioned that the timetable could change. The department now says a design team expects to complete its work by next summer. But, the agency cannot pin down a date when work will begin.
The wait is frustrating neighbors, who say they haven’t been kept apprised of developments. In the meantime, they express concern about speeding on the road and its continued use by heavy vehicles, despite long-standing prohibitions on truck traffic. The bridge is located between Miss Hall’s School and the Herman Melville homestead.
“People run the red light in both directions,” said Ingrid MacGillis, of 654 Holmes Road. “We can hear them speed up when the light changes.”
Greg Knight, who lives nearby, on Shetland Drive, said that getting out of his road and onto Holmes is hard during the morning commute.
“It can be a pain waiting for the light to switch three times, but since COVID-19 hit, it hasn’t been too bad,” he said.
Some neighbors interviewed, including MacGillis, said they wish officials had provided updates about the project.
“Nobody has come around to ask us how we’ve dealt with the traffic,” she said.
Sonya Daly has lived at 650 Holmes Road for 28 years.
“The first couple months, I was irritated every day. I told myself, if this was going to happen for two years, I can’t keep that anger, and we’ve gotten used to it, but it is still frustrating,” she said. “We haven’t received any information and we’re left guessing what is happening.”
Daly said the amount of traffic on Holmes has increased in the years she has lived there. That includes commercial vehicles.
“There are constant tractor-trailers, cement mixers and dump trucks who shouldn’t use the bridge,” she said.
Given the problems that engineers discovered with the bridge’s beams, Daly is left wondering what heavy vehicles are doing to the structure supporting the single lane that remains open.
“My concern is, if one side of the bridge is closed down because of the poor condition, and no one is forcing the heavy trucks to go in other directions, now the other side is seeing double or even triple the amount of traffic,” she said. “It can’t be much better than the other side. No one is avoiding the bridge. We think it could be completely shut down or closed because no one is doing anything about all the traffic.”
Judith Riley, a DOT spokeswoman, said design work on a $1.7 million rebuild is advancing and was not affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The design team is evaluating all options to limit any permanent right of way impacts to the abutters,” she said.
Once repair plans are set, the DOT will host an online public meeting to provide a briefing on the project, Riley said.
As with all state bridge projects, the department takes a fresh look at how a span is serving all travelers, including pedestrians and people on bicycles.
“The bridge will not be widened, but we are maximizing the existing space available across the width of the structure,” Riley said by email in response to questions. “Allocating the space in the safest way possible for all roadway users.”
According to inspections and reports reviewed by The Eagle, one beam in particular, the seventh from the north side of the bridge, prompted the DOT to restrict use. A March 2019 study by a Boston engineering firm recommended that use of the bridge be narrowed, after a routine DOT inspection found problems with beams.
The bridge, built in 1977, is made up of 10 beams butted against one another side by side, a common building method in New England since the 1950s, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s online bridge manual.
Leaks can develop in the joints between beams in this kind of bridge, allowing deicing chemicals to get inside. That can result in erosion in metal reinforcing rods and in “spalling” — when bits of concrete break away.
“The joints between all beams have evidence of leakage,” a May 2018 inspection report says.