Amherst Town Council OKs spending for temporary Station Road bridge

  • The bridge over Hop Brook on Station Road.  STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2019 11:36:41 PM

AMHERST — A temporary bridge will be installed by the end of April on Station Road, putting an end to the detours in place since the bridge closed in September.

The Town Council Wednesday morning voted 10-1, with District One Councilor Sarah Swartz the lone dissenter, to spend $212,500 from the town’s free cash account to pay for the purchase and installation of the bridge. At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer and District 4 Councilor Stephen Schreiber were not present for the vote.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring presented a timeline showing that work on the temporary span should begin March 21 and be completed April 17.

For residents of Amherst Woods, the bridge closure has been a hardship for the past several months, according to those speaking at a charter-mandated public forum prior to the council’s vote.

Sigurd Nilsen of Teaberry Lane, and president of the Amherst Woods Homeowners Association said not being able to use Station Road has meant extended travel times for residents, having to use less safe routes and hurt businesses in the South Amherst and Pomeroy village centers.

Barbara Skolnick Rothenberg of Iduna Lane said providing the money for the temporary bridge is the responsible decision.

“The closing has had safety, ecological and business-retail implications,” Skolnick Rothenberg said.

The expenditure was previously recommended by the Finance Committee, which is made up of five councilors.

Committee Chairman Andrew Steinberg said while it is necessary to reopen the bridge, the money used for the project comes at “substantial cost that will have to be borne by taxpayers of Amherst” and will also impact how Amherst pays for several capital projects in the coming years, such as a new elementary school. Officials have been strategically building up the free cash and stabilization reserves to offset some of the expenses when Proposition 2 ½ debt-exclusion votes are needed.

The town has $3.14 million in its free cash account, as well as $9.4 million in a stabilization fund, according to figures provided by Sonia Aldrich, Amherst’s comptroller.

The cost, as well as process that led to the temporary bridge being considered a priority, prompted Swartz to cast a no vote. Swartz said she is concerned that many other road projects should have been examined at the same time, observing that in her district there are concerns about the dangers and traffic tie-ups at the intersection of Meadow, North Pleasant and Pine streets, which will be exacerbated when the North Square at the Mill District mixed-use project opens this summer.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne, who represents residents affected by the bridge closure, said she agrees that a process for public works projects needs to happen so that the council is not pitting one part of town against another.

Although Council Vice President Mandi Jo Hanneke voted in favor of the spending she said it was a difficult decision because the total project cost, at nearly $1.37 million for the temporary and permanent bridge, is expensive. She said she heard from constituents opposed to the spending.

The town will be seeking a $500,000 grant from the state’s small bridges program to pay for some of the total cost.

The council also passed a second vote, by the same 10-1 margin, to transfer $227,500 from free cash to a road maintenance account. Money from that account was used for engineering services and other costs associated with the bridge project. Without that transfer, there would be insufficient money in the account to fill potholes and do other road maintenance this spring.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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