Reopening of Southampton bridge brings rejoicing

  • The East Street bridge at the intersection of Strong Road remains under construction Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. The bridge crosses the Manhan River and connects the center of Southampton to the city of Holyoke, as East Street extends from College Highway (Route 10) to the border of Holyoke at County Road. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The East Street bridge at the intersection of Strong Road remains under construction Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. The bridge crosses the Manhan River and connects the center of Southampton to the city of Holyoke, as East Street extends from College Highway (Route 10) to the border of Holyoke at County Road. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Bashista Orchards owner Tom Bashista picks Winesap apples Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Bashista Orchards owner Tom Bashista picks Winesap apples Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Bashista Orchards owner Tom Bashista, right, picks Winesap apples with his son Jacob Bashista, 19, on Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Bashista Orchards owner Tom Bashista picks Winesap apples Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jonathan Bashista, 19, pulls out a fresh batch of cider donuts in the bakery at Bashista Orchards on Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The East Street bridge over the Manhan River in Southampton is open to traffic Thursday for the first time since construction began in November. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The East Street bridge at the intersection of Strong Road in Southampton is open to traffic Thursday after being under construction since November. The bridge crosses the Manhan River and connects the center of Southampton to the city of Holyoke, as East Street extends from College Highway (Route 10) to the border of Holyoke at County Road. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Bashista Orchards owner Tom Bashista, left, picks Winesap apples with his son Jacob Bashista, 19, on Wednesday afternoon in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jacob Bashista, 19, picks Winesap apples Wednesday afternoon at Bashista Orchards in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2022 7:55:53 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — To the delight of a Southampton business and motorists who rely on the access route, the new $2.6 million East Street bridge opened Thursday afternoon for the first time in nearly a year.

Following an inspection from the town’s engineering firm, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Springfield, detour signs and concrete barriers were removed, allowing vehicles to once again cross the bridge through a critical transportation corridor linking the center of Southampton to Holyoke.

“Hallelujah!” said Tom Bashista, owner of Bashista Orchards. “One customer told me they went over the bridge twice already. We’re very happy and hoping to see our regulars soon.”

The access route has been closed for 11 months and has cut off regular traffic that typically passes by Bashista’s business. The 100-acre family-run farm, known for its pick-your-own fruits like peaches, cherries and apples as well as cider donuts, is located near the Holyoke town line and about a three-minute drive from the East Street bridge.

The previous East Street bridge, which was nearly 90 years old, was demolished in December. The bridge crosses the Manhan River and spans a major thoroughfare that stretches from College Highway (Route 10) in Southampton to the border of Holyoke at County Road.

The bridge closure, Bashista says, put a big dent in profits, cutting his regular business in half.

“We’re on the Holyoke side of East Street and with the bridge down, it cuts us off from the rest of the town,” he said. “The traffic that is usually going by has been detoured. While we’re still getting tourists, that local traffic isn’t going by like they might ordinarily.”

The lack of traffic combined with the statewide drought and a lighter crop after peak blossoms of several varieties of apples were not pollinated by bees, has added to the orchard’s challenges, he said.

As such, Bashista wasn’t been able to hire seasonal help. He does have help from his 19-year-old twin sons, Jacob and Jonathan Bashista, in both the orchard and the country store as well as his 22-year-old daughter, Amanda Bashista, on the weekends.

And with the peak season for the orchards — September through early October — coming to an end, he’s letting out a sigh of relief that the bridge has reopened.

“We’re past peak now — it really cut into this whole year. We couldn’t afford to hire help,” he said. “We’re hopeful that everyone will come back once the bridge is open. … A big thank you to everyone who goes out of their way to visit us at Bashista Orchards because without them, we’d probably have to do something else other than farming.”

The opening of the bridge, originally scheduled for this summer, has been delayed twice, officials said. The construction firm MIG Corporation Inc. of Acton requested an extension due to the structural steel vendor’s inability to procure raw materials from its supplier, according to Southampton Highway Superintendent Randall Kemp. The delays shifted the completion date of the bridge from midsummer to fall.

While the project still calls for completing some outstanding items, all of that work can be done with the bridge open, Kemp said.

“While several items remain to be finished, all structural and safety measures have been completed, so in the interest of eliminating the inconvenience of the detour since the outstanding work does not affect use of the bridge, we opened the bridge,” he said.

He added that building the replacement bridge is the first step in the larger East Street reconstruction project, which is estimated to cost an additional $4 million more.

The project has been in the works for years as the Select Board expressed a desire to have the bridge rebuilt in 2009. A 2018 Pavement Management Report prepared by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission also recommended a full reconstruction of East Street, identifying East Street as one of four roads in Southampton in the poorest condition.

“We’re very excited … residents and businesses have been waiting very patiently,” said Kemp.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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