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State leaves fate of bridge up to Conway

Recorder file photo
A granite grindstone replica sits at the entrance to the rebuilt covered bridge in the Burkeville section of Conway.

Recorder file photo A granite grindstone replica sits at the entrance to the rebuilt covered bridge in the Burkeville section of Conway.

CONWAY — Vehicles may soon be able to cross the South River over the Burkeville Covered Bridge to get between Main Poland Road and Ashfield Road.

The state Department of Transportation is allowing the historic 1871 bridge to be re-opened for traffic for the first time in 28 years.

“It is now in our hands to open the bridge to vehicular traffic,” said Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke on Monday.

The Selectboard will make its final decision once it receives a recommendation from the police and fire chiefs and highway superintendent.

But O’Rourke said the board was in favor of opening the bridge.

Since the town has settled the legal issue — that the town owns the bridge — it has to settle the structural question. The town has to determine whether the bridge will be open for one or two lanes of traffic. It also has to remove the millstone that blocks the approach to the bridge from Route 116.

No cars will cross the bridge before August, when a private wedding is scheduled on the structure.

The bridge would only be open between May and October to prevent damage from road salt, which had been a concern of the state engineers.

The historic bridge connects Route 116 to Orchard Street and Main Poland Road across the South River. It is one of only three original covered bridges remaining in Massachusetts and one of 10 similar bridges remaining in the United States.

In 2003, the town invested $1 million in state and federal money to renovate it.

The kingrod covered bridge received new steel rails to support the original wooden framework. When the work was completed in 2006, the state at the time advised the bridge remain closed to nonpedestrian traffic, citing the bridge’s lack of steel and crash-tested guardrails.

Crossing the wooden bridge over the rushing waters of the South River has been a longtime wish for the townspeople after the state closed it in 1985 due to structural deficiencies.

The state decision is especially an achievement for the town Historical Commission, which has lobbied continually for the bridge’s re-opening out of a charge it was given by a 2006 town meeting vote.

“This was a whole community effort — historic in its own right — that was spearheaded for years by the late Eleanor Manwell and Alice Eldridge of the town Historical Commission,” said Sarah Williams, chairwoman of the commission.

“Countless dedicated volunteers worked and donated to preserve our covered bridge, and fought tirelessly for its long-delayed renovation and re-opening. We’ve ‘bridged the gap’ to reach the finish line this year thanks to the supportive participation of a new Selectboard, commendably assisted by veteran state bridge engineer Alexander Bardow.”

In a May 3 letter, Bardow notified the town that it reanalyzed the bridge for moving vehicles and re-posted it for 15 tons — up from 8 tons previously. The posting limits the bridge to small vehicles — no tractor-trailers or fire trucks.

MassDOT also determined the vertical clearance at the bridge is 11 feet, 5 inches. Because of this, vertical clearance signs are required.

As the owner of the bridge, the town is responsible for enforcing both the weight and height limit, Bardow said. Bardow warned that vehicles exceeding the limits could cause damage, resulting in the bridge being closed to traffic again.

If the bridge is re-opened, MassDOT would perform scheduled routine inspections in 24-month intervals.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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