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Select Board OKs one-way vehicle traffic for Amherst bridge

The board selected Aaron Hayden as its new chairman at the start of the meeting. Later, it endorsed the recommendation by the Public Works Committee that the Mill Street Bridge — barricaded to vehicles since the summer of 2012 but still used by pedestrians and bicyclists — be rebuilt as a 24-foot-wide span over the Mill River, with room for one travel lane for vehicles and a separate 10-foot wide multi-use path for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The cost to rebuild the bridge will be about $1.6 million, based on estimates provided by CDM Smith Engineers of Cambridge, and could be completed sometime in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2016.

Christine Gray-Mullen, chairwoman of the Public Works Committee, told the board that feedback during two meetings it held on the project was either to replace the existing bridge and limit its use to pedestrians and bicycles or to rebuild the bridge for two-way traffic.

The committee’s recommendation to seek a compromise was made primarily due to funding, Gray-Mullen said. If the bridge no longer carried vehicles, the state would be unlikely to provide money under the Department of Transportation’s Accelerated Bridge Replacement Program.

In a letter to Albert Stegemann, the district highway director for District 2 in Northampton, the Select Board wrote, “The town has concluded that it supports a replacement bridge that has only one vehicle lane with a multi-use path.”

Selectman Andy Steinberg, who was attending his first meeting as a member following last week’s town elections, said many who live in the area of Puffer’s Pond appear appreciative of the compromise.

Select Board members said it is likely that the one-way traffic will go southbound. The advisory committee has not yet made a recommendation on the direction of travel, although DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring said the town should just “cut to the chase” and make vehicles go southbound.

“That actually gives the most flexibility to the Puffer’s 2020 plan,” said Mooring, referring to the document that offers concepts for parking and safety in the vicinity of the recreation area.

Meanwhile, Hayden was the only member nominated for chairman and was unanimously appointed. “Thank you very much, I think,” Hayden said.

He replaces Stephanie O’Keeffe, who had served in that capacity since late 2008, but did not run for reelection to the board.

The board agreed to continue rotating the job of vice chair, observing that it allows each member to sit in on the agenda-setting sessions in advance of meetings.

Steinberg and fellow newcomer Connie Kruger were congratulated by James Wald, who also thanked others who ran for public office.

Wald again praised O’Keeffe and Diana Stein, the other board member who gave up her seat, for devoting “hours and hours of their lives” to the town.

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