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Re-opening covered bridge could mean traffic issues

Conway road would intersect with curved part of Route 116

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Burkeville Covered Brigde in Conway.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Burkeville Covered Brigde in Conway.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Burkeville Covered Brigde in Conway.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Burkeville Covered Brigde in Conway.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Burkeville Covered Brigde in Conway.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Burkeville Covered Brigde in Conway.

CONWAY — As the state Department of Transportation and the town determine whether the Burkeville Covered Bridge should be re-opened to vehicular traffic, one of the issues to consider may be the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles on Route 116.

The 1871 bridge connects Route 116 to Orchard Street and Main Poland Road over the South River.

Thomas Shaw, a civil engineer for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and 10-year Conway resident, has questioned how opening the bridge to traffic may pose a hazard because there would be an offset intersection between the bridge and Delabarre Avenue at a curve in Route 116.

“Because of the geometry of Route 116 at this location as well as the offset distance between the intersection with the bridge and Delabarre Avenue, the decision site distances in this area are limited,” Shaw said. “It will be difficult to see traffic stopped on Route 116 waiting to make a turn as well as vehicles entering onto Route 116 from either the covered bridge or Delabarre Avenue.”

“I would be concerned that the site distances necessary for the average driver to be able to see turning vehicles or vehicles entering the intersection may be insufficient,” Shaw said. “Opening the bridge to vehicular traffic, particularly if it’s only during the tourist season, could create an unsafe situation.”

Shaw suggests the state Department of Transportation conduct an analysis based on site distances and design speed on the proposed intersection. The state DOT did not return repeated calls for comment.

After a $1 million renovation, completed in 2006, the state recommended closing the bridge to vehicular traffic to preserve the bridge. It has been closed since, but now town officials, some of whom have concluded the town, not the state, has final say over use of the bridge, are considering reopening the bridge.

Historical Commission Chairwoman Sarah Williams said the town has many issues to discuss before opening the bridge, including safety issues, a height limit and whether the bridge should be one-way or two-way.

Williams said the Historical Commission has not taken a formal position on the final use of the bridge. “Everyone will have input,” Williams said. “The Historical Commission won’t make the final call in the end. It’ll be a lengthy debate.”

Another question is whether the bridge needs to be re-rated to see if it is safe for vehicles to cross. The bridge is currently ratedfor an eight-ton load. State Bridge Engineer Alexander Bardow said recently it may not be necessary to re-rate the bridge since it has not been used.

But before the town answers these questions, Williams said it has to confirm whether the town — and not the state — has the authority to decide the use of the bridge.

According to state general laws, the Mass. DOT has the authority to determine the safe load-carrying capacity of the bridge and make a recommendation to the town as to whether to open it to traffic.

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

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