Decaying beams force indefinite shutdown of Great Barrington bridge

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A decaying town-owned bridge that the state has carefully watched over the years will be closed indefinitely to traffic for repairs to its superstructure.

The town closed the bridge at noon Wednesday, after a Massachusetts Department of Transportation inspection found that the long beams, or "stringers" which support the Cottage Street bridge's deck, require reinforcement until the bridge is replaced in 2023, paid for by a $5 million state grant.

"We knew about the deterioration of the stringers from our engineers, as well," said Sean VanDeusen, director of the town's Department of Public Works. "The state said, 'You have to do some work to brace those ... for us to feel [it is] safe.'"

It's a story playing out all over Berkshire County, which as of earlier this year had nearly 50 bridges on the state's "structurally deficient" list. Of those, 17 are in a queue for state-funded repair or replacement between 2018 to 2022.

VanDeusen said the town has been preparing for some time to replace this 84-year-old span over the Housatonic River. In 2014, a MassDOT inspector deemed the 134-foot bridge structurally deficient, most seriously to its superstructure. Its weight limit for trucks was reduced, though the bridge serves mostly as a connector from Main Street/Route 7 to the residential neighborhood on the east side of downtown.

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"It's not a really well-used bridge compared to other bridges [in town]," VanDeusen said. "It's not a truck route. It's just an inconvenience for the neighborhood."

The bridge will remain open for pedestrians unless MassDOT says otherwise, he added.

The town's engineers, Tighe & Bond, are working on a proposal for these repairs. VanDuesen said the extent of the work is unclear. MassDOT will have to approve this before the town can put the work out to bid and go through permitting.

As for the cost of this fix, VanDeusen said it all depends on how much work is necessary. The price tag could be as low as $10,000. But it could be as high as $100,000, the cost to do similar stringer upgrades to a comparable bridge in Palmer, he said.

VanDeusen said he isn't yet sure which town budget line the money will come from.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871


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