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Bernard A. Drew
Gilmore Avenue resident Donna Drew poses next to the Cottage Street bridge shortly after it closed to vehicular traffic last December.

No temporary fix: Cottage Street bridge to be closed for five years

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By Wednesday, May 1, 2019 News 3

Great Barrington — A popular downtown bridge will remain closed for at least five years while the town awaits state grant money to replace it.

At an April 29 meeting of the Great Barrington Selectboard, engineer Andrea Lacasse of Tighe & Bond explains what would be involved in a temporary repair of the Cottage Street bridge. At right is Great Barrington Department of Public Works superintendent Sean Van Deusen. Photo: Terry Cowgill

That was the determination of the selectboard Monday night after hearing from town public works superintendent Sean Van Deusen and an engineer who presented an analysis of the Cottage Street bridge that included cost estimates of a temporary repair that would reopen it until it could be properly replaced. Click here to read the report.

Van Deusen had hired Andrea Lacasse, a structural engineer from Tighe & Bond, to perform the study. She found that a fix that would allow the bridge, which spans the Housatonic River, to open to vehicular traffic would cost in the neighborhood of $400,000 and would take more than a year to complete.

See video below of the discussion of whether to repair the Cottage Street bridge:

In May 2018, the town learned that it would be awarded a grant of roughly $5 million from the State Transportation Improvement Program to replace the bridge, but the money would not be released until 2023.

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

Only seven months later, the state Department of Transportation told the town the bridge had to be closed to vehicular traffic. MassDOT gave the bridge its lowest rating and noted “deteriorated stringer webs at both abutments” as the primary reason for the closing.

“Some of them have holes through them,” Van Deusen said of the stringers.

Vehicle barriers have been placed at the bridge’s entrances, though it remains open to pedestrian traffic. Lacasse said bicycles are considered “regular pedestrian activity,” so they are allowed, but she “would not encourage parade activity on the bridge.”

“So we’re caught in this dilemma where we have this grant that we will be getting in five years to replace the bridge and a $400,000 price tag to repair it to open it now,” Van Deusen told the selectmen. “So I’m looking for guidance from you guys as to what to do.”

At an April 29 selectboard meeting, Gilmore Avenue resident and former selectman Andrew Blechman called the closing of the Cottage Street bridge ‘a bummer.’ Photo: Terry Cowgill

“I’ve reached out to as many people who live in that area as I could and the gist of it is it’s a minor inconvenience and probably not worth the money,” selectman Ed Abrahams said.

Former selectman Andrew Blechman, who lives on Gilmore Avenue the near the bridge, told the board the closing was “a clear inconvenience and a bummer,” but that he could not see “throwing good money after bad money.” Blechman said he had spoken to about half a dozen fellow residents in that neighborhood, though he did not purport to speak for them.

“Basically, we can take it on the chin and have the inconvenience for five years,” Blechman said. “I just can’t see residents in other parts of town paying those kinds of tax dollars to repair a bridge that’s going to be replaced.”

At the April 29 meeting, Great Barrington Selectboard member Kate Burke questioned whether enough neighbors were aware that the board would be making a decision on whether to repair the Cottage Street bridge. To her right is fellow member Dan Bailly. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Selectboard member Kate Burke wondered whether enough of the affected residents were aware that the board would be making a decision that night on whether to repair the bridge.

Though the vote was unanimous to keep the bridge closed, Chairman Steve Bannon said the board could always change its mind if there was a groundswell of objections from neighbors.

“This vote tonight can be changed,” Bannon explained. “If 50 neighbors come up, they all feel strongly about it and we want to change our minds, or the next board does, then this is not a permanent decision where we’re going to put up cement pillars and close it for five years.”

Town manager Jennifer Tabakin suggested the board “continue to reach out to MassDOT” in an effort to see “if bridge funding could be accelerated so that you have it in an earlier year.”

Tabakin also noted that the current traffic impact is minor but that could change when construction for the planned hotel for the former Searles School on Bridge Street begins. The developer, Chrystal Mahida, confirmed to The Edge last week that the project is very much alive but did not give a timeline for when construction would begin.

At its April 29 meeting, the Great Barrington Selectboard decided to keep the Cottage Street bridge closed until it could be permanently replaced. From left, Steve Bannon, Ed Abrahams, Dan Bailly and Kate Burke. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The bridge spans the Housatonic, connecting Main Street with residential neighborhoods and East Street, which is a popular north-south shortcut that avoids Main Street.

The Cottage Street bridge is one of three in Great Barrington that need attention soon. Both the Division Street and Brookside Road bridges are in need of major overhauls. This year, for example, Van Deusen is requesting $4 million to repair the Division Street bridge and is requesting $3 million in repairs for the Brookside Road bridge starting in 2023. Click here for a full report.

The Cottage Street bridge is a pony truss-style bridge that spans 130 feet and is about 30 feet wide. It was built in 1934 in North Adams, disassembled in 1959 and stored in Dalton until 1961, when the truss and most of the floor beams were moved to Great Barrington and reconstructed at the current location, according to Bridgehunter.com.

The average daily traffic was 100 vehicles per day in 1999, the last year for which statistics were available, compared to 5,400 per day for the Division Street bridge.

Before 1961, the Cottage Street bridge was known as the Day Bridge and later, the Rubber Bridge. Click here to read an Edge history of the Cottage Street bridge by local historian Bernie Drew.


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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    This is a commendable decision by the Selectboard. As there is a magnifying glass on budgets and taxes, especially this time of year, it is warranted to take a moment and applaud the fiscal restraint and responsibility shown.

  2. Laura C says:

    If that’s the case, then they better do something about the traffic lights at the Brown Bridge. Sometimes traffic gets backed up to Belcher Square, and it’s not even tourist season yet. The light at the Cottage Street intersection needs to be looked at too. Unless someone hits the crosswalk button or they are coming out of Taylor Rental the light does not change, thus creating a back up in the other direction. I hate driving over Gilmore or East St to get to Bridge Street, (which is going to be another mess soon).

  3. Peter Fish says:

    Thank you Kate for flagging what is really a big deal – I’m amazed how little play closing a significant bridge for 5 years is getting – the impact this summer could be significant.

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