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Heather Bellow
Looking east across the Bridge Street bridge, which is in need of rebuilding or replacement to accommodate the projected increase in traffic.

Bridge upgrade essential for Bridge Street projects

By Saturday, Mar 14, 2015 News

Great Barrington — Now that Bridge Street is on the cusp of a long-anticipated transformation, with several large developments — one completed, the others still in the planning stages — there’s something that could stymie the whole thing if it isn’t fixed: the Bridge Street Bridge.

Built in 1950, the 150-foot bridge spans the Housatonic River, connecting homes on the east side of town to Main Street. It also serves as a way around Main Street to access State Road and the Fire Station, and in the other direction, Fairview Hospital. This Main Street bypass will become a very busy route indeed once the Main Street Reconstruction Project gets under way in several weeks.

But the Bridge Street span can no longer safely handle the traffic it is expected to bear – now and in the future. According to a letter written by Tabakin requesting $2.4 million in state aid to rehabilitate the bridge and endorsed by the Selectboard, the town worries that the “functionally obsolete” bridge — which has weight restrictions and a low structural rating — may hinder current and future development efforts on Bridge Street, “a key part of the Town’s economic development strategy.”

Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin reading at the letter to be sent to the state requesting $2.4 million in aid to upgrade the Bridge Street bridge.

Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin reading at the letter to be sent to the state requesting $2.4 million in aid to upgrade the Bridge Street bridge. Photo: Heather Bellow

The jewels of that strategy include the 8-acre brownfield just east of the bridge, the former New England Log Homes site, the soil of which is in the midst of a bioremediation process that will resume this spring; the long vacant former Searles High School, for which a local hotel owner has proposed a luxury hotel and conference center; and the newly renovated former Bryant Elementary School, which is now the world headquarters of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics.

But, the letter says, “this level of economic development will not be possible unless the bridge is rehabilitated.”

The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDC), for instance, is investing $45 million in public and private money to develop 100 Bridge Street, a combination of commercial space, affordable and market-rate housing, and open space along the Housatonic riverbank. The CDC and The Berkshire Co-Op Market are still working out the details for an expanded Market on the site. CDC Executive Director Timothy Geller said that he hopes to have a signed agreement with the Co-Op by end of the month, with construction set to begin late fall, possibly on November 15, and completed by late winter or early spring of 2017.

The bridge is also an essential link for pedestrians.

The bridge is also an essential link for pedestrians. Photo: Heather Bellow

Tabakin’s letter is addressed to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and Department of Transportation. The form letter is being distributed to local businesses, which, she said, could put some extra power behind the Town’s request for money.

In asking the state to contribute, the letter notes that the Town has already spent $270,000 on Bridge Street projects, including engineering and street design, and environmental remediation. There is also $500,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding proposed for the open space and affordable housing components of 100 Bridge Street, still to be voted on at Town Meeting.

Geller said that fixing the bridge is “absolutely critical.”

“We’re talking about a neighborhood in which upwards of $50 million will be invested in the next five to six years, and significantly more activity,” he noted.

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