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Great Barrington Town Manager Pruhenski continues to argue against temporary fix for Brookside Road Bridge, angry residents demand quick action

“If we did proceed and if we put a temporary span in place, we would likely lose our emergency status and jeopardize the $3.4 million in state funding for a permanent replacement," Pruhenski told residents at the July 8 meeting. "We would be looking at $5.5 million of taxpayer money [for both the temporary span and permanent replacement]."

Great Barrington — As promised at the June 24 Selectboard meeting, the town has issued a report on the conditions of the town’s bridges. The report, which was issued on Friday, July 5 as part of the informational packet for the Monday, July 8 meeting, includes details about the condition of the Brookside Road Bridge. The bridge, which was the primary connection to town for residents who live in that area of Great Barrington, was unexpectedly closed by the state’s Department of Transportation on May 2.

On May 22, MassDOT officials informed town officials that the bridge would remain closed until it is fully replaced.

In an email following the bridge’s closure, Town Manager Mark Pruhenski wrote that the expected timeline for the design, permitting, and replacement for the bridge is four years, and the estimated cost for the project is in the “$3.4 million range.”

The Brookside Road Bridge in Great Barrington on May 20. The bridge was unexpectedly closed by the state’s Department of Transportation on May 2. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

The conditions of the bridge described in the Tighe & Bond report are based on condition ratings and deficiencies listed on the latest MassDOT inspection reports, and not all deficiencies for each bridge are listed in Tighe & Bond’s report.

The condition rating guide, as listed in the Tighe & Bond report on Great Barrington’s bridges.

The report shows photos of the Brookside Road Bridge, including a north railing of the bridge with a large perforation in its structure; disconnected railings; a floor beam with rust and section loss; and a bearing on the southwest part of the bridge with debris, rust, and an anchor bolt nut section loss, as well as an overexpansion with bent anchor rods.

The south railing of the Brookside Road Bridge, showing parts of the bridge’s railing system disconnected. Photo courtesy of Tighe & Bond Engineers.
A floor beam at part of the bridge. The photo shows rust and section loss on the beam. Photo courtesy of Tighe & Bond Engineers.
A bearing on the southwest part of the bridge. The photo shows debris, rust, an anchor bolt nut section loss, and an overexpansion with bent anchor rods. Photo courtesy of Tighe & Bond Engineers.

According to MassDOT’s condition ratings, the bridge’s railing, bearings, paint, and coating have all been rated as being in poor condition. The bridge wearing surface, deck joints, stringers, and floor beams have all been rated as being in fair condition.

At the July 8 Selectboard meeting, Town Manager Pruhenski said that the town’s original plan for the past four years has been to move the temporary span on Division Street to the Brookside Bridge location when there was a permanent replacement for the Division Street bridge. “Unfortunately, the Brookside Bridge was closed sooner than we expected, so that plan did not work out for us,” Pruhenski said. “The temporary span [for Division Street] took about three years, and that was with funding in place. We were a little bit ahead of the curve for that one.”

Pruhenski said that both himself and town staff are recommending against a temporary span for the Brookside Road Bridge. “If we did consider a temporary span, it means that the financial burden would shift to the town, so Great Barrington taxpayers would be on the hook for over $2 million,” Pruhenski siad. “If we did proceed and if we put a temporary span in place, we would likely lose our emergency status and jeopardize the $3.4 million in state funding for a permanent replacement. We would be looking at $5.5 million of taxpayer money [for both the temporary span and permanent replacement]. And, I’m speculating here and don’t hold me to this, but the timeline would probably be similar to what we’re looking at now, which is about four years based on our experience with the Division Street Bridge.”

Pruhenski added, “I just can’t see recommending using our limited capital resources just to open the bridge maybe a few months earlier than we would be opening it now.”

“I’m very well aware that this is not the news people want to hear,” Pruhenski said. “I’ve been promising everyone that I’ve talked to in the Brookside Road neighborhood from the beginning that I wouldn’t sugarcoat anything. I’ll be honest with you, and we’ll share as much information as we have with you as we learn more [from the MassDOT].”

Pruhenski said that the next workshop the town has with MassDOT over the Brookside Road Bridge situation is on Tuesday, July 30.

When asked by a resident, Pruhenski reiterated that the town knew about the poor condition of the bridge for years.

After Pruhenski spoke about the current situation with the bridge, Selectboard Chair Steve Bannon allowed residents to comment. Residents who spoke, including those in the neighborhood of the Brookside Road Bridge, were not happy with the information Pruhenski relayed, including resident Deb Ryan. “Let me understand, you have $800,000 in the capital budget for the Division Street [project], but you are not giving us a temporary solution,” Ryan said. “There was a report in 2021, and that particular report recommended that the bridge be remediated or replaced as soon as possible. We definitely are in an emergency status, and we need to get some sort of fix before another four years goes away. So thanks for trying to help, but I don’t think we really are a high priority [for the town].”

“When we purchased our home, it was a very conscious effort to live in Great Barrington,” said Brush Hill Road resident Amanda Serafini. “I have elderly parents. I caretake my 105-year-old grandma, and I need to be able to get to them in a timely manner for emergencies, because I’m the kid that lives here. When we chose to purchase our home, I did not want to be in the woods. I did not want to live in a hill town, because this was my main priority and this is why we chose our location at Brush Hill. I am now putting on my car 112 miles a week just to go up and around on the detour down to Maple Avenue and back up Route 7 before I get back to Brookside Road.”

Serafini told the Selectboard that the extra traveling has put extra strain on her family’s automobiles and stress on her family. “I feel very isolated, physically and psychologically, because now we have had to cancel plans [since the bridge closed] or people have canceled plans because they don’t want to make the trip,” Serafini said. “We are also taking a tremendous financial hit with the gas, and wear and tear on the car. We’ve also paid out a few hundred extra dollars since the bridge has been closed for people that are coming to service our home, who are now charging an additional cost because of what they are considering for their gas and their mileage. I don’t believe that the town of Great Barrington or the state is going to help us financially with our situation, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention that it’s more than inconvenience, for me it’s a very big concern with safety if, God forbid, if I need to get somewhere or someone needs to get to us.”

Residents asked several times if there was a timeline currently in place for the replacement for the Brookside Road Bridge. As of the July 8 meeting, Pruhenski said that there is currently not a timeline or a firm estimated date for when the bridge replacement would be completed.

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