Division St. Bridge (copy) (copy)

The Division Street bridge in Great Barrington is pictured here in 2020.

Good news: If all goes as planned, a long-closed Great Barrington roadway will be traversable this summer for the first time since the Division Street bridge was deemed unsafe by the state in 2019. Bad news: Motorists won’t be crossing a repaired permanent bridge but a temporary, one-lane modular structure that will cost the town $4 million without addressing any of the Division Street bridge’s long-lingering woes.

Great Barrington’s short-term plan is an understandable measure to mitigate the unavoidable disruption from having a critical span essentially wiped off the map for years. It’s also an unfortunate sign of the times that doesn’t just read “bridge out” but warns of the troubled waters small towns can face while trying to shore up crumbling infrastructure.

A long-term fix for the Division Street bridge depends on federal money, the protracted delay of which has left local officials sitting on their hands since the bridge’s September 2019 closure. That delay costs municipalities (i.e., taxpayers) not just time and annoyance but dollars and cents as well. Shortly before the Division Street bridge was closed, Great Barrington voters approved putting $4 million toward the cost of permanently repairing it. That $4 million, however, will now pay for installing the temporary span.

This piecemeal approach to essential government projects like roadway and bridge maintenance is wasteful and unsustainable. Infrastructure-related capital costs can be burdensome for small towns, but it’s unacceptable that the holdup of federal funds makes this burden all the heavier. Local funds that should be sustainably invested instead go to temporary fixes while the long-term project gets kicked down the road. Great Barrington paying $4 million to hurry up and wait for the necessary assistance with fixing a critical link between Routes 183 and 41 is only the most recent example.

The sclerotic nature of this process means these “temporary” fixes can become semi-permanent to the chagrin of those who use these roadways. Just ask the motorists who sometimes wait for two red lights in a row at the one-lane section of Holmes Road in Pittsfield, a temporary redesign awaiting construction that has far overstayed its welcome.

We don’t fault Great Barrington for pursuing a temporary plan for the Division Street bridge. The disruption to residents, which has already stretched on for more than two years, should not continue. Neither should this country’s woefully inadequate approach to maintaining the bones of communities across America, which leaves those communities caught between the frustrations of doing nothing and the wastefulness of dumping taxpayers’ money into temporary stopgaps instead of permanent solutions.

The landmark federal infrastructure package passed earlier this year is poised to put $1.1 billion toward bridge repair in the Bay State — an encouraging but long overdue development. We hope this investment begins to address the languishing cracks in our infrastructure. Without that investment, small towns in underserved regions like ours are left holding the bag and applying costly Band-Aids where usable permanent bridges should be.