The Division Street bridge in happier times. If all goes according to plan, it will reopen next summer after an emergency repair. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Division Street bridge to reopen next summer; Brown Bridge work to begin next week

The good news is that the Brown Bridge is a state bridge and so its repair will cost the town of Great Barrington almost nothing, beyond the aggravation.

Great Barrington — If all goes according to plan, motorists looking to get from Route 183 to Route 41 will find relief by next summer.

Last week town manager Mark Pruhenski told the selectboard there are both short-term and long-term plans for the town-owned Division Street bridge, but it will likely reopen next summer after a temporary repair.

The town’s engineering firm, Tighe & Bond, has completed an alternatives analysis that will ultimately allow the town to move forward with a full replacement of the bridge. Town officials say it’s likely the state will pay for the permanent replacement of the bridge if lawmakers in Boston agree to pass a bonding bill.

In order to reopen next summer, however, a temporary fix will have to be executed. Officials don’t yet know precisely how much it would cost but that operation would be on the town’s dime.

Town DPW head Sean VanDeusen tells the selectboard and finance committee in January 2019 that improvements must be made to the Division Street bridge or it could be reduced to one lane or eventually closed by the state. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Sean Van Deusen, who heads the town Department of Public Works, told The Edge engineers have completed about 60% of the work required for the emergency repair. He expects engineers to complete that work soon and submit it to the state Department of Transportation for Chapter 85 approval.

Van Deusen said the idea will be to use town funds to get the Division Street bridge reopened with at least one lane and perhaps both. If, as officials think is likely, the bond bill passes, then a couple of years after the emergency repair, the town could be eligible for up to $12 million to permanently replace the span.

“It’s promising,” Van Deusen said of the likelihood that MassDOT will fund the permanent replacement. “They’ve said that bridge is a priority to them but the money has not been allocated yet.”

On orders from the state Department of Transportation, the embattled bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in September of last year. Two years ago, the state Department of Transportation deemed the bridge “structurally deficient” after a July 2018 inspection revealed deteriorated steel stringers.

Voters subsequently approved a $4 million bond at the 2019 annual town meeting to fund significant repairs of the aging steel-truss structure, which was originally constructed in 1950.

The highly traveled Division Street bridge runs east and west, and connects routes 41 and 183 just south of the village of Housatonic. Barriers and detour signage were promptly installed to alert drivers. The bridge remains open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Nearby residents had long complained that large trucks exceeding the weight limit routinely crossed the bridge every day.

At the Oct. 21, 2019, Great Barrington Selectboard meeting, Taft Farms owner Dan Tawczynski said his business has suffered a 38% decline on Mondays through Thursdays as a result of the Division Street bridge closure. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Since the closing, the town has been under pressure to reopen the bridge as soon as possible. To wit, Dan Tawczynski, who, with his family, owns Taft Farms, a popular farm and store at the intersection of Route 183 and Division Street, said last year that business at his store has decreased by 38% on Mondays through Thursdays since the Division Street bridge closed. Tawczynski has suggested he might go out of business if the closure persists.

Van Deusen added that, while the permanent replacement of the bridge will require it to be closed for at least six to eight months, it will be a planned closing that will give motorists and others plenty of warning. In contrast, when MassDOT ordered the Division Street bridge closed last year, there were only three or four days’ notice.

A deteriorated railing post on Great Barrington’s Brown Bridge shows evidence of having been painted red, green and perhaps even orange. Photo: Terry Cowgill

In other bridge news, Van Deusen said the repair of the Brown Bridge, which spans the Housatonic River and connects State Road (routes 7 and 23) with Route 41 where Domaney’s and the “GB” shrub are located, is slated to begin next week.

The good news is that it is a state bridge and so its repair will cost the town of Great Barrington almost nothing, beyond the aggravation. State officials have said that, with rare exceptions, the Brown Bridge will remain open to two-way traffic during construction. The lanes will be narrowed to provide adequate workspace safety and staging areas for materials. Traffic management will be in place.

The repairs include, but are not limited to, strengthening existing steel which has deteriorated, repairing the bridge rail and painting the bridge. The cost estimate for the project is slightly more than $2 million. MIG Corporation of Westborough is the contractor for the project. The plans call for two 12-foot-wide travel lanes during construction with concrete barriers delineating the work zones on the bridge.

State transportation officials have told The Edge they anticipate that there will be times during the setup and takedown of the barriers when traffic will be restricted to a single alternating lane. Van Deusen said signage has already been placed in the area. The work is expected to be completed within one year.

A rust-perforated stringer on the underside of the Cottage Street bridge, as seen during a June 12, 2018, inspection. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Department of Transportation

MassDOT plans to close the right turning lane onto the bridge for northbound motorists. So this will mean that all vehicles, whether they want to proceed straight to Route 41 and North Plain Road or whether they want to stay on Route 7 and turn right onto the bridge, will have to use that left lane. The lane closure will better allow large trucks to swing wide for a right turn into the work area of the bridge.

Meanwhile, Van Deusen said, the Cottage Street bridge will remain closed indefinitely. Despite pleas for a temporary fix to a town-owned span, officials say a repair could endanger millions in state funds secured by the town to replace the Cottage Street bridge five years from now.