Great Barrington bridge to remain closed until 2023

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A decaying town bridge will remain closed to traffic until the state releases the money to completely replace it in about four years — give or take.

The town had planned a temporary fix to keep the Cottage Street bridge open to vehicles, but a sharp hike in that cost gave town officials pause, since $5 million is coming in 2023 to completely replace it.

The Select Board voted unanimously Monday to wait for the replacement, since the bridge isn't a critical connection in town.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recommended the bridge over the Housatonic River be closed to vehicles in December, months after it failed an inspection — it received a zero on a scale of zero to 9. Corrosion, cracks and rust holes in the stringers, or supports, are just some of the problems found on the 84-year-old span, according to the inspection report.

The bridge will remain open to pedestrians, and the traffic light will also remain in service, but the town will replace some of the barriers for aesthetic reasons.

While the money for the replacement is a sure thing, the timing is not — the date could move, said Sean Van Deusen, the town's director of public works.

He said it depends on the state Department of Transportation, and how all the projects it is funding are moving along, and how the money holds up.

"They can move [payment] back a year or forward a year," he said, noting that MassDOT has to shuffle money around in a priority-based funding queue for the long lineup of infrastructure projects.

Town officials had found themselves in a dilemma last month when the cost to do a temporary reinforcement of the bridge's superstructure rose from around $100,000 to $200,000 to about $350,000 to $450,000.

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While the bridge is a convenient way for residents who live on the east side of town to get to Main Street, it isn't considered by town officials critical enough to spend the extra money now ahead of a replacement.

"It's a minor inconvenience, probably not worth the money," said Select Board Vice Chairman Ed Abrahams.

Andrew Blechman, who lives near the bridge, said it isn't worth it for taxpayers to repair the bridge for the short term.

But Blechman suggested taking a small percentage of the money being saved and using it to expand amenities for the neighborhood park.

Board Chairman Stephen Bannon said the town's Park's Commission is working on that.

Board member Kate Burke was somewhat uncomfortable taking the vote. She said the meeting agenda was vague about the possibility of closing the bridge for a longer stretch, and wanted to make sure affected residents are heard.

"I don't know if we're reaching that neighborhood," she said. "We're not being completely honest in this agenda about what we are discussing right now."

Bannon said the decision can be overturned if need be, and that the reason for the vote is to give the public works department guidance.

Van Deusen later told The Eagle that replacement of the bridge would likely take about six to 12 months.

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


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