We're Building Bridges ... Lots of Them

Westfield is an island.

Think about it. The core of the city is basically an island surrounded by bridges.

Our most recent bridge crisis–the closing of the 1914 Horton Bridge over the Little River on Granville Road–is one of the smaller bridge projects Westfield has to deal with. But, to the residents of Westfield stranded in the Southwest corner of the city, it’s a nuisance to find a detour. It is reminiscent of the Northwest Road bridge, which closed in 1995 and just re-opened last year.

The Horton Bridge was closed when state inspectors concluded that the concrete arch portions were beyond repair. The replacement for the Horton Bridge is currently in the design stage, which started last September.

State Highway Commissioner Matt Amorello says that the design should be completed by the end of this year. The design alone will cost about $200,000. Construction will begin in 2002 and last about two years with an estimated price tag of $1.6 million.

The biggest bridge project in Westfield is the one people have talked about for decades–the Great River Bridge, where Elm Street meets the Westfield River.

The relief of traffic congestion along the Elm Street corridor over the Westfield River has been a local priority for many years. And, it is hoped, the renovation of the old bridge and construction of a second bridge next to it, will alleviate the problem.

Blessed Sacrament Church will be taken as part of the project (the Church is agreeable) to change and improve the flow of traffic.

When it’s completed, the renovated bridge, to the west, will be southbound traffic. The new bridge, to the east, will be northbound.

The project will include raising the railroad tracks on the overpass from 12 feet 9 inches to 14 feet 6 inches; work on the adjacent bridge on Pochassic Street; construction of a riverfront park; and installation of a coordinated traffic signal as well.

Meanwhile, all the environmental approvals have been received and the initial design is almost done. We’re about to begin the final design stage, probably this month, with the State picking up $1.4 million of the cost. The final design should be completed by mid 2002, with construction to start in 2003.

Construction cost is estimated to be approximately $27 million.

I hate to think about the traffic congestion during this construction project, as 30,000 vehicles travel through each day. I’ll just quote City Councilor Barbara Russell who said, "It’s not going to be pretty." But, we’ll have to live with it for a couple years and, hopefully, be rewarded with an end to traffic jams on Elm Street that we know today.

And, there’s more.

Two bridges have been consolidated into one project. The Powder Mill Bridge and the adjacent bridge on Route 20 (Main Street from Little River Road to the Union Street intersection) over the Westfield River is in the design stage.

It is tentatively scheduled for advertising to get construction bids in 2003. However, if design progresses quickly, the project could be advertised next year.

Design cost is $471,000. The two bridges combined will cost about $10-million.

These are the bridges that you hate to stop on. The so-called dry bridge, or viaduct, where you can see through the rebar thanks to crumbling concrete, and which is propped up by timbers, is especially scary. I’ve been complaining about it since I was first elected!

There are six bridges in Westfield right now that have been posted for weight limits–Southwick Road over Little River, Granville Road (the Horton Bridge) over Little River, Pochassic Street over the Pioneer Valley Railroad, Lockhouse Road over the Pioneer Valley Railroad, Pochassic Road over Moose Meadow Brook, and Southwick Road at the intersection of Loomis.

One of those–the Routes 10 and 202 Cowles bridge on Southwick Road over the Little River, is also in the design stage and will be replaced.

It is tentatively scheduled to be advertised this fall. Cost of the project is estimated at $2.9-million.

Westfield is not alone. Other cities are also having bridge crises, primarily because the state has not repaired and replaced infrastructures on an ongoing basis. Things have, frankly, just been ignored for many years.

Suddenly, at the same time as the largest public construction project in the world–the Central Artery Project in Boston (the so-called Big Dig)--is sucking up billions of the taxpayers’ road and bridge dollars, we’ve noticed that more than half of the bridges in the Commonwealth are too weak, dilapidated or overburdened for their current traffic loads.

Massachusetts, in fact, along with Rhode Island and Hawaii, have the worst bridges in the country, according to a recent federal study.

So, Westfield is not alone. I thank the highway department for helping this city solve its bridge problems. I’m grateful that Massachusetts will be spending billions on the city’s brides.

But, I just hope that they don’t start all the bridge projects at the same time.

Because, Westfield is indeed an island.

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