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Editorial: Road work, the right way

The road construction season is in full swing and one of the biggest projects to impact traffic regionally — rebuilding the Manhan Bridge in Easthampton — begins in earnest in a matter of weeks. Given the number and range of projects, this is one construction season that will test the patience of drivers and the commitment of state and local highway officials and their contractors to give the motoring public early warning of road closings and other traffic disruptions.

That has not always been the case.

Resurfacing of Interstate Route 91 through Hampshire County has started and lane closings should be expected throughout the summer. Electronic messaging boards are in use and the MassDOT has its 511 traveler information system in operation for real-time traffic updates.

Route 9 west of Northampton to the Goshen line is undergoing a major overhaul. The $2.8 million project will improve drainage and sidewalks, seal cracks and resurface nine miles of the state highway. At times the road will be narrowed to one lane. Commuters must adjust to delays there. And summer travelers heading for the DAR State Forest or to the northern Berkshires will need to plan extra travel time.

Warm, dry days at the end of April and early May gave crews a good jump on the work.

The dry weather also worked in favor of crews rebuilding North Street in Northampton, but it turned the road into a dust bowl, much to the discomfort of residents. Posting the street for local traffic only might eliminate some cars — and dust — from those using North Street as a shortcut between downtown and the industrial park or Damon Road.

On May 1, drivers traveling to and from Easthampton on Route 10 got a taste of what the rest of the year will be like when the Manhan Bridge near Easthampton’s downtown rotary was closed from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Crews were installing a pedestrian bridge adjacent to the 61-year-old span, which will close for six months beginning in June. The bridge is not structurally sound and will be replaced.

Early stages of the $3.75 million project saw installation of traffic lights and intersection improvements at junctures of Route 10 with O’Neil and West streets. Those streets will serve as detours for traffic during bridge construction. They are also intersections where improvements and traffic lights were needed, so they are an added benefit of the project.

The good news is that the May 1 bridge closing was publicized. Commuters had the opportunity to plan their routes and allot enough time to get where they needed to go.

Communications will be key throughout the summer. Construction companies need to use electronic signs and the news media to let motorists know when work will affect travel plans.

Highway infrastructure needs to be maintained and repaired. Unannounced projects during peak travel times are annoying and cause unnecessary delays.

For their part, motorists need to pay attention, heed the warnings and plan ahead. Sure, there will be inconveniences, but this is work that needs doing. It helps maintain the infrastructure and also gives a boost to the economy.

In the meantime the state’s Chapter 90 money, which funds local road projects, is still being held hostage in a dispute between the governor and the Legislature over a multi-year transportation bill.

As we have noted on this page, the money is usually released in early April so communities can plan projects between May and September. The political procrastinating is inexcusable and further delays may cause projects to be postponed for the year. That will only push costs up and leave critical road repairs undone.

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