Cottage Street bridge fix could be years away

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A steep hike in projected costs to repair the Cottage Street bridge might delay the bridge's reopening — by at least five more years.

Original estimates pegged the cost at $100,000 to $200,000 to reinforce the superstructure of the 84-year-old span, but now it looks more like a $350,000 to $450,000 job.

And with a full replacement of the town-owned bridge paid for by a $5 million state grant planned for 2023, town officials might just decide to wait.

"I had hoped it would be a cheaper fix," said Sean VanDeusen, director of the Department of Public Works."There are other bridges that need work. It's not a bridge that gets a lot of traffic."

After a 2014 state inspection, the 134-foot bridge that connects the east side residential neighborhood with Main Street was deemed structurally deficient, but still safe for traffic. Then, in December, a routine inspection found that it needed reinforcement and repairs. The town closed the bridge to traffic, and in the meantime, set out to do an engineering plan for work that likely would take about three months, VanDeusen said.

But that was before the reality of all the regulations set in.

VanDeusen said the state requires a full engineering analysis that would cost up to $80,000. The engineering company also gave the town its preliminary estimate based on the inspection report. Environmental regulations also push the cost up.

"So everything gets complicated," he said.

He said the matter will go before the Select Board soon.

VanDeusen said the Division Street and Brookside Road bridges need attention. The town also is planning to do some preventative maintenance to the Pumpkin Hollow Road bridge.

"We're now taking a look at small bridges," he said. "We'll be looking to do engineering work, years before they become a problem."

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He said the state also will be doing some repair work again this summer to Brown Bridge on Route 7.

It's not just bridges that have fallen into decay because of decades of deferred maintenance, VanDeusen said — it's also culverts.

And with modern regulations, those repairs can get expensive, too.

"There's the Christian Hill Road situation," he said. "It's $400,000 for one culvert."

At the May 6 annual town meeting, VanDeusen will be asking voters for that amount to fix it.

He said stream-crossing standards that allow wildlife to pass through, for instance, have increased these costs, too. And agencies also have made new rules for keeping culverts from blowing out in storms.

In the past, he said, redoing the same culvert would have cost around $10,000.

VanDeusen said a grant from the Housatonic Valley Association is helping towns in the county to map out culverts to determine the scope of repairs.

Great Barrington isn't alone in its bridge and culvert woes. Early last year, nearly 50 bridges in Berkshire County were still on the state's structurally deficient list, with 17 in a queue for state-funded repair or replacement through 2022.

And across the U.S., the situation is similar — more than 47,000 bridges are structurally deficient, according to a new report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which analyzed Federal Highway Administration data.

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


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