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Expect delays in Great Barrington: New water mains need to be buried 12 feet under railroad tracks

While the main is being replaced beneath the tracks, traffic will be reduced to one lane, so motorists should expect some delays during peak traffic times. As required by law, a pair of police officers will direct traffic around the clock.

Great Barrington — Headaches will continue for motorists on Main Street and Maple Avenue as the Great Barrington Fire District replaces water mains that are almost 100 years old. 

But soon the disruption will have an unusual twist: Workers will have to install a new main that runs under the railroad tracks on Maple Avenue near the intersection of Mahaiwe Street.

The unusual operation, which should begin later this week or early next, will take at least a week. It would take even longer but, in order to minimize the length of the disruption, workers will be at the site 24 hours a day until the work is finished. 

The trio that runs the Great Barrington Fire District: From left, superintendent Pete Marks, district clerk and assistant treasurer Cindy Ullrich and Walter F. ‘Buddy’ Atwood III, who chairs the district’s Prudential Committee. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“It’s gonna take a little bit of effort to do it,” said Walter F. “Buddy” Atwood III, who chairs the board of the Great Barrington Fire District, the quasi-public organization that owns and operates the water system. “We have to dig a pit, we have to be 12 feet underneath the tracks. We have to drive a 42-inch tube underneath the tracks.”

Atwood briefed the selectboard earlier this week on the fire district’s latest challenges as it labors to complete an almost $2 million water main replacement project that stretches from Main Street at Saint James Place south to Maple Avenue (routes 23 and 41) and on to the Green River Bridge, where the district maintains wells, filtration beds and a pumping station.

Atwood said installation of the new mains under the tracks used by Housatonic Railroad was supposed to start a couple of weeks ago but was held up by demands on the contractor to be elsewhere. He expects the work to start tomorrow or Friday, or perhaps even early next week.

“There’s going to be two police officers there [at all times] and I know people in the neighborhood are going to call you and ask you, ‘What the hell is going on?'”

The contract for the entire project ends Saturday, Dec. 15. That’s about the time most asphalt plants shut down for the winter, so Atwood expects the water main replacements—all 6,600 feet of them—will be over by then. 

Recently, drill rigs were brought in near the intersection of Main Street and Maple Avenue because workers encountered significant amounts of granite that needed to be removed in order to bury the new mains to a depth of 6.5 feet, as is now customary. This added about $200,000 to the cost of the project.

“They couldn’t do it with the equipment they had and they had to bring in a special drill rig to dislodge the granite,” Atwood said. “This was quite a problem for the contractor.” 

Workers installing new water mains in Great Barrington are edging closer to the railroad tracks. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The mains under the tracks, however, will have to buried at almost twice that depth, which complicates the operation. 

“It’s one man in a ditch with a shovel,” Atwood said to scattered laughter.

Selectman Ed Abrahams asked Atwood why the fire district couldn’t run the new main over the tracks — again, more laughter. 

Selectman Kate Burke asked whether residents and businesses will be alerted in advance of the disruption or when their water service is interrupted. Atwood said the fire district uses the town’s new Code Red notifying system available for sign-up on the town website.

Selectman Dan Bailly wanted to know if there was coordination between the fire district and the state Department of Transportation, which is planning a $6.9 million rebuild of Main Street from Saint James Place to the area of the Claire Teague Senior Center and National Grid office on Route 7.

That project includes a redesign of the Main Street and Maple Avenue intersection near the police station, eliminating the traffic light and constructing a traffic circle or roundabout.

A MassDOT blog post on the Adams roundabout project said it cost $1.4 million and included new sidewalks, landscaping, granite curbs and pavement markings.

Click here to read an Edge story about both projects. And click here for an article on a town workshop on the project held in May. It includes video of the workshop.

Atwood said the fire district has been in communication with MassDOT. Indeed, the water main replacements need to be finished before the state can start work on the state projects, which are scheduled to go out to bid in fiscal year 2020, MassDOT spokesperson Victoria Mier said.

The railroad grade crossing and the surrounding neighborhood can be seen from the air. Image courtesy Google Maps

While the main is being replaced beneath the tracks, traffic will be reduced to one lane, so motorists should expect some delays during peak traffic times. As required by law, a pair of police officers will direct traffic around the clock.

Atwood apologized for not knowing precisely which day work will start on that portion of the project but the subcontractor is a specialist that does work all over the northeastern United States. Work was supposed to commence two weeks ago, “but he kept putting it off for a number of reasons,” Atwood said.

Atwood said the noisiest portions of the dig will be when contractors have to build two pits at each end. One of the those pits will need to have concrete poured into it so that the aforementioned “tube can be jacked into the ground.”

Town manager Jennifer Tabakin said MassDOT plans to hold a hearing on the Main Street redo Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The reconstruction of that end of Main Street will be picking up where the legendary $6 million Main Street reconstruction project of 2014–16 left off.

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