Amherst to determine future of 'unsafe' Mill River bridge near Puffer’s Pond dam

Last modified: Friday, October 25, 2013

AMHERST — The bridge over the Mill River below the Puffer’s Pond dam has been closed to motor vehicles for the past 16 months, after an inspection by state officials found the structure unsafe.

But with a guarantee by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that it will pay for reconstructing the Mill Street bridge, town officials will spend the next several months deciding whether the bridge should reopen in 2017 or be permanently closed to motor vehicles. The cost of repairing the bridge has not yet been determined.

Town Manager John Musante told the Select Board Monday that Albert Stegemann, the highway director for the Mass DOT District 2 office in Northampton, wrote in August that the state anticipates fully paying for the bridge reconstruction within four years.

However, in his Oct. 11 response to Stegemann, Musante wrote that since the bridge was closed in July 2012, “the change in the neighborhood and Puffer’s Pond recreation area have been positive, with only limited impact to the traveling public.”

The town plans to hire a consultant to examine the bridge and evaluate options. They include taking no action on the bridge which now can still be used by pedestrians and bicyclists; improving the bridge but only for bicyclists and pedestrians; rebuilding it as a one-lane bridge with an accompanying bicycle and pedestrian path; or rebuilding it as a full two-lane bridge.

“Each of those options have pros and cons to them,” Musante said.

Several meetings will be held to hear from the public before deciding how to proceed, likely by next July, Musante said.

Louis Greenbaum of Montague Road told the board that the loss of the historic bridge, which passed through what once known as Factory Hollow, has been a hardship for many in North Amherst who have used Summer Street, Mill Street and Sand Hill Road as their main route to get to the University of Massachusetts or downtown Amherst.

“While it was open the bridge was an invaluable alternative to the principal north-south route,” Greenbaum said.

Vincent O’Connor of Summer Street presented a petition asking that the structure be reopened immediately as a one-lane bridge, with vehicles alternatively stopping at the approach in both directions before proceeding across.

Despite the state inspection that forced the bridge to close, O’Connor said state engineers with whom he has consulted tell him the bridge is safe enough to handle a low volume of traffic.

O’Connor said reopening the bridge in a limited way, prior to reconstruction, is both a matter of public safety and convenience.

In his opinion, the closing has delayed response times for ambulances and police cruisers, has funneled more traffic onto Pine Street and Montague Road and has forced people to travel through the busy UMass campus.


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