What a relief: the split street bridge will reopen ‘later this summer’

The split street bridge has been closed since 2019. The bridge will be dismantled by next week and replaced with a temporary modular truss “later this summer”. Photography by Terry Coogill.

Great Barrington – To rest the motorists who depend on it, the long-closed Division Street bridge, which spans the Housatonic River, will likely reopen in the coming months.

Briefing the selection board during last night’s meeting, City Manager Mark Prohinsky said concept design for the project had been completed. As for the project itself, he added, “We’re looking forward to a major completion later this summer.”

Watch the Edge video below for a summary on the Division Street Bridge. Update starts at 31:10:

“We are awaiting the final review of Chapter 85 of the MassDOT right now,” Prohinsky said, referring to the state law governing roads and bridges. “Everything is going according to our schedule.”

But it is worth noting that this process will not be a complete replacement for the bridge – at least not yet. The city is installing a temporary modular truss to replace the existing extent of obsolescence. Officials said the permanent replacement could take years to pull out.

Erosion control measures are already in place, having earlier been approved by the City Preservation Commission, which enforces the state’s Wetland Protection Act. “All facilities that need to be removed have been moved,” Pruhenski said.

Temporary modular truss bridge. Photo courtesy Tighe & Bond.

It has been a long and slow journey to get to this point. On orders from the state Department of Transportation, the blockaded but heavily used bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in September of 2019 but is still open to pedestrians and cyclists. The state deemed the bridge “structurally defective” after an inspection in July 2018 revealed the deterioration of the steel tendon.

A subsequent routine pregnancy classification examination the following year brought more bad news and a complete closure of the bridge. But the 2019 inspection actually reduced the condition of the trusses.

The project ran into a major snag when a 2019 inspection by MassDOT on the bridge failed to accurately assess its condition, putting the kibosh on temporary repair that would have reopened the troubled sprawl sooner.

The city was later told that temporary repair would be out of the question, so city architects Tighe & Bond said that left the city with one good option: demolish the existing structure, and purchase and install a temporary modular truss, using the two existing trusses for support.

Voters have already approved a $4 million bond at the city’s 2019 annual meeting to fund major repairs to the aging steel truss structure, which was originally constructed in 1950. The purchase and installation of the temporary modular span would cost roughly the same amount. Permanent bridge replacement will be expensive but approx

The underside of the closed split street bridge. Photo courtesy Tighe & Bond.

It would all be on the state’s currency, despite the fact that Division Street, which connects Routes 41 and 183, is the city’s road.

Sean Vandyusen, a former director of the Great Barrington Department of Public Works, said MassDOT is actively designing a bridge that will likely be built in the next eight to 10 years and likely cost the state $15-20 million.

VanDeusen also said that once it is no longer needed on Division Street, the temporary truss may very well be put to use in a similar capacity to temporarily replace the Brookside Road Bridge when it needs to be rebuilt. The Brookside Road Bridge is the “sister truss” of the Division Street Bridge. It’s of the same design, sprawl, and antique, and will also need replacement in the future, although never before seen by the kind of traffic that often is on Division Street.

Selectboard member Lee Davis said she’s heard from Taft Farm owners who want to know if the temporary truss has weight restrictions. Bronsky said he would ask the town’s architects, Tighe & Bond.

In contrast to the old bridge, the temporary truss will include only one travel lane and therefore must be a beacon bridge. It will also have a cantilevered extension for pedestrians and cyclists. A full report from Tighe & Bond on replacing the bridge with a temporary truss can be found here.

In the meantime, on-site activity is imminent. The plan to demolish the old bridge is under final review, so motorists and taxpayers can expect work on dismantling the old bridge as early as next week.

“This is very exciting,” Prohinsky said. “You’ll see a lot of action there in another week.”

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