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Busy Easthampton bridge to close Monday for six months

  • Easthampton bridge that will be closing shortly.
  • The Route 10 bridge over the Manhan River in Easthampton, shortly before it was closed for repairs.<br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Drivers of the approximately 22,000 vehicles that cross the Route 10 bridge over the Manhan River on Northampton Street each day are braced for it to close Monday as a $3.75 million replacement project gets under way.

The detour is about a half-mile longer than their usual route. Although drivers can still access businesses on the 1.5-mile stretch of Northampton Street bypassed by the detour, their owners are fretting about drive-by traffic being wiped out.

Frank DePaola, administrator for the Highway Division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the method of replacing the 62-year-old bridge is innovative and will limit the impact on the community.

“It’s the ‘tear off the Band-Aid’ approach,” he said in a phone interview. “We try to have it closed for the shortest amount of time and get the work done as soon as possible.”

DePaola is referring to the state’s $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, initiated by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008 to cut down the number of bridges deemed structurally deficient — a MassDOT term that means a bridge needs to be replaced but isn’t immediately dangerous.

The program hires companies to construct bridge pieces off-site, which allows workers to assemble the span more quickly and shortens the time it must be closed, DePaola said. As of Jan. 1 the program had replaced 121 bridges and 56 more are in the works, cutting the number of structurally deficient bridges from 543 in 2008 to 436, a 20 percent decline.

MassDOT spokeswoman Sara Lavoie said the accelerated construction techniques are shaving at least 18 months off the Easthampton bridge project.

“MassDOT expects the bridge closure will be limited to six months. In comparison, if this structure were replaced using conventional, cast-in-place methods, the bridge would need to be closed for up to two years,” she said in an email to the Gazette.

DePaola said six months is nothing in comparison to some drawn-out projects he’s seen. “I don’t want to scare anyone, but one in Waltham went seven years,” he said.

Bridge work begins

DePaola said that as soon as the Manhan River bridge closes Monday, work will begin to deconstruct the structure, right down to most of the abutments and piers.

“With this bridge, we need to replace most of it,” he said. “The deck surface is in poor shape and we need to completely replace the abutments and piers — they’re what holds up the bridge.” The base of the abutments are in good shape, so workers won’t have to dig and pour new ones. They will construct new abutments on top of them, DePaola said.

“To shorten our overall schedule, we’re going to build the deck with prefabricated sections. That way we can be simultaneously pouring the foundations and prefabricating the deck in sections,” he said.

If workers must construct the deck on site, they not only have to wait for the foundation to be complete, but have to pause 28 days between applications of concrete to the deck so it can set properly.

They are also at the mercy of the weather, while the precast concrete plants can make the deck pieces indoors, he said.

Lastly, the deck sections are trucked in and attached to the foundation before being paved over, DePaola said.

When finished, the bridge will be about eight feet wider than the current one, he said. The wider deck will allow for two travel lanes, two 4-foot bike lanes and two 5.5-foot wide sidewalks.

Projects complete, underway

The accelerated construction techniques require the bridge to be completely closed, compared to some older techniques where one lane can be open at a time while construction crews work on the other side of the bridge.

But DePaola thinks people prefer the shorter, complete closure.

“We find that if people know a definite window of time when it will close, the community can put up with the inconvenience better,” he said. “And they know it probably won’t happen again in their lifetime.”

In Williamsburg in 2009, MassDOT worked with the Highway Department to do accelerated replacement of the Skinnerville Bridge off Route 9 in just 10 days. DePaola said the work was quick because that bridge only needed a new deck, which had been made off site.

Another nearby bridge replacement project much bigger than the one in Easthampton is about to wrap up ahead of schedule.

The Davitt Bridge in Chicopee will reopen at the end of July, 13 months earlier than expected, state officials announced in April. The Route 116 bridge, which closed in May 2012, was originally scheduled to reopen in August 2014.

The company responsible for getting the $8.1 million project finished early is Northern Construction Service LLC of Weymouth, the same company that is working on the Manhan River Bridge in Easthampton.

At an informational meeting about the Easthampton project last fall, Northern Construction co-owner John Rahkonen said his company “always” finishes projects early. “We’ve never missed a date,” he told citizens at the meeting.

MassDOT is trying to make sure that’s the case in Easthampton. The state’s contract with Northern Construction says that the company will be fined $3,350 for every day over six months that the bridge is closed or rewarded with a $3,350 bonus for each day it is open ahead of schedule, up to $100,000.

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

Though Pleasant Street in Easthampton has seen more recent traffic with the development of the Eastworks Building (former Stanley Home Products mill complex), it has been some time since this street has seen the scope of traffic this bridge project will bring to this throughway. Having grown up on Pleasant Street when all the mills there were filled with local residents and commuting employees. The morning and late afternoon migration of people and vehicles on this street highlighted the success of these businesses and complaints of such activity was nonexistent. Hopefully the small businesses along this street will see a bit of surge in business as the new commuters taking this detour for the next 6 months find a new stop for their daily newspaper, snack, lottery ticket, or more. I'm sure the shop owners would appreciate this temporary boost in business.

Upgrading the roads of the alternate routes that must be used before closing the bridge would have made this much less painful. Glendale/Loudville Road is in desperate need of resurfacing.

Glendale/Loudville Road is not the alternate route. O'Neill and Pleasant Streets - the alternate route - are in very good condition, and lights have been installed to allow smooth traffic flow.

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