There's a New Bridge Coming....2001

How many times have you been caught in the North Elm traffic jam?

Well, it won't get any better until about 2002. That's, hopefully, when the new Great River Bridge will be finished. If all goes well.

After years of planning, and too many studies to count, a new traffic pattern, a new bridge and some relief from gridlock finally look like reality.

The Mass Highway Department has finished the environmental impact assessment, required by law, with comments and changes and the final version due to be completed by month's end.

Then, the preliminary design stage, detailing the first stages of the project, is due for completion and approval by the end of this year. The third stage is the final design of the bridge--scheduled to be completed by 2000, with actual construction starting in 2001 or 2002.

The cost? $20-million.

Basically, the current bridge will be rehabilitated, reinforced and refurbished.

We can't just replace it. It's eligible for historic designation.

Also eligible for the National Register are the superstructure of the Pioneer Valley Railroad Bridge over the River, the Buschmann Block and the old Bismark Hotel property. Depot Square may, or may not, be eligible.

The second, parallel, bridge will be added to the east. The old bridge will be southbound; the new, northbound. Northbound traffic will flow behind, or to the east, of North Elm Butcher Block, up to Union Avenue, where it will join North Elm at Blessed Sacrament Church.

The Conrail bridge, infamous for all the trucks that have wedged themselves under the low overpass, will be raised.

To detail all the lights, roads, and right of ways, sidewalks and traffic flow would take a whole column. But if you want to see all the details, call Jim Boardman in City Hall. He's got a great map. The Atheneum has the complete report, with all the details, too.

Right now, traffic flow is measured like a report card--A being good, F is failing. And, frankly, isn't at the top of the class, and it'll only get west in the next 15 years. The Railroad Avenue, North Elm, Pochassic area already has E and F grades in peak hours.

The bridge project will increase road capacity, reduce congestion and improve traffic flow along the Elm Street corridor, from downtown Westfield to the Turnpike, as well as adjacent streets.

And added benefit is improved air quality. (No change in noise levels.)

Birds, fish and wildlife won't be disturbed, with land corridors along the river maintained. The salmon will still be able to spawn. And, when the job is done, canoeists and walkers will be able to use an expanded waterfront area. And, more open space, or parks, will be available for all of us.

There is some ground contamination at Wojtkiewicz Park, but it is 20 feet deep and can be monitored and contained.

The JohnCarlo woodworking properties, and the former Fiore and Darling Building, all on Railroad Avenue, will be taken, along with 785 square feet from Blessed Sacrament, at the Union Avenue/North Elm corner.

Along the corridor will be mitigation--lighting, parks, building fronts--to be designed and determined as the project continues.

There's more to come, and a lot more details and planning. And your thoughts and ideas are welcome.

But, please remember--I'm the messenger. You can call me and tell me what you think about the whole project.

But the best way to get attention paid to your ideas is to write or call John Fallon at Mass Highway Department before October 24. (He's at 10 Park Plaza Room 4260, Boston 02116, and 617/973-7408.)

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