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Easthampton residents, shopkeepers eager for Manhan bridge to reopen at the end of October

Workers from Northern Construction, front, earlier this month saw a concrete drain pipe on the Manhan River bridge near the corner of Northampton and West streets in Easthampton. Although the bridge is not expected to reopen until late October, some motorists recently have attempted to drive across the bridge.
JERREY ROBERTS

Workers from Northern Construction, front, earlier this month saw a concrete drain pipe on the Manhan River bridge near the corner of Northampton and West streets in Easthampton. Although the bridge is not expected to reopen until late October, some motorists recently have attempted to drive across the bridge. JERREY ROBERTS

Officials with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) said in August that they hoped to reopen the bridge near the downtown rotary by early October, but a construction supervisor at the site Wednesday said it would likely be open sometime in the last two weeks of October.

MassDOT originally predicted the bridge would be completely closed for six months from June 3 to Dec. 3 for the $3.75 million project.

Meanwhile, this week, local radio station 93.9 The River is hosting what it terms a “cash mob” to try to encourage people to support two often bypassed businesses along the work route: TrüBeer and Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack.

Immediately on the bridge’s south side, the craft beer store TrüBeer is in no position to receive spur of the moment visits from any passing motorists. Only customers who know it’s there would find it because its section of Route 10 looks closed because of the construction.

Recognizing that, 93.9 The River aims to draw customers to TrüBeer and to Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack, a seafood stand at 232 Northampton St., by hosting a “cash mob” at both businesses Friday between 5 and 6 p.m.

An open invitation on the radio station’s website explains that to help the businesses who have been “feeling the pinch,” attendees can buy beer at TrüBeer and then enjoy it outside at Captain Jack’s with whatever fried seafood they choose to buy and the other cash mobsters.

“People can bring beers here and hang out,” said Captain Jack’s owner Kevin Sahagian. “It should be a good time.”

Paving, finishing touches left

The 62-year-old bridge was identified for replacement as part of MassDOT’s Accelerated Bridge Program, which uses materials manufactured off-site to speed up bridge replacement projects. The precast concrete beams that form the bridge deck were installed at the end of July, and now workers from Northern Construction of Weymouth are working on paving the bridge and areas around it.

“We’re looking to open the bridge in five to six weeks,” said bridge supervisor Pat Ferron. “Now we’re doing the road work — curbing, paving, etc.”

Work left to do on the bridge itself includes installing a waterproof membrane on the deck, paving it and installing rails, said Sara Lavoie, a MassDOT spokeswoman. The surrounding sidewalks need to be finished and the workers will then remove temporary traffic signals and the pedestrian bridge, she said.

Taking it in stride

Residents near the Northampton Street bridge have been dealing with noise and dust from construction and having a hard time getting in and out of driveways or side streets.

“It has been a hassle,” said Shelley Hinderaker of 6 Mill St., a small dead-end street whose entrance is on Northampton Street right at the construction site. “But I think they’ve been as accommodating as they can while still working to get it done.”

On the north side of the bridge Wednesday, the entrance to Mill Street was so small, dusty and dwarfed by construction equipment that it was nearly invisible. But a few residents’ cars rolled slowly down the dirt path that used to be sidewalk to get to their homes.

“On one hand, it’s been kind of cool watching a bridge get built,” Hinderaker said at her home. “But we’ll be glad when it’s finished.”

Because the road’s entrance on Northampton Street is nearly on top of the construction site, residents sometimes have to wait in their vehicles for construction equipment to move aside so they can come or go. “But when they see us, they move so we can go through,” she said.

Drivers at the traffic signal just a stone’s throw away at the intersection of Northampton and West streets are not so yielding, she said. The signal that was installed at the beginning of construction cycles through to allow Mill Street residents a chance to pull out into the nearly constant flow of traffic from Northampton Street to West Street, an unofficial detour around the bridge. But because nearly all the drivers are taking that route, they fail to stop when they have a red light and don’t notice Mill Street residents trying to pull out when they have a green light.

“When the light first went in, about half the time, I’d see someone run the red light,” Hinderaker said. “It’s gotten better now that people are more used to it.”

Police Chief Bruce W. McMahon said the intersection has been problematic and while there haven’t been any accidents, there have been a few “close calls.”

In the last few weeks, officers have watched the intersection closely and ticketed drivers who ran the red lights, he said.

“We’ve probably written at least a dozen citations,” he said Thursday.

Businesses cope

At Captain Jack’s Wednesday, Sahagian said it is hard to estimate how much the detour has affected his business because the bridge closure coincided with his busiest season. He also thinks his restaurant is just becoming more popular.

“The numbers have probably been about the same,” he said. “But it hasn’t helped.”

Certainly, he noted, people who are coming from south of the bridge, including those from the Holyoke area and parents whose children go to the Williston Northampton School, are not coming to eat at his shack as much as usual.

“But the bridge needed to be fixed — what can you do?” he said.

For more information about the Cash Mob event, visit www.wrsi.com/2013/09/12/cash-mob-route-10-easthampton.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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