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Editorial: Clear up issue on bridge sidewalks

Here’s a message to the state highway department and Montague selectmen: Let’s act like adults.

The back-and-forth squabbling over the clearing of the sidewalks that are part of the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge sounds more like a playground fight between children who are having a hard time accepting what they are responsible for than responsible public officials.

It shouldn’t be this difficult.

Since the bridge is state property, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has the responsibility for keeping the deck clear for motor vehicle traffic, as part of its highway and bridge system. But while the state owns and maintains the bridge, clearing the sidewalks is another matter ... that’s never been a state responsibility.

So that leaves the two communities that are joined by the bridge, particularly Montague since the sidewalk on its side leads into the village of Turners Falls, holding the bag.

It would seem that the towns have a couple of options here. Either post the sidewalks as closed, or inform pedestrians that they traverse on foot at their own risk because of the snow and ice. This might help with liability should someone slip and fall while walking across the bridge.

But this also opens up the possibility that people will take to the roadway, increasing the possibility of an accident.

Yes, we know that historically, Montague hasn’t seen clearing the bridge’s sidewalks as its job. It’s an issue that Montague officials have discussed over the years without coming to an answer. Recently, in fact, a local teen was shoveling the sidewalks of his own volition — at last until the renovation work got under way. That’s clearly going above and beyond for this individual.

Montague’s highway superintendent talked about liability issues about in a recent Recorder story, and pointed out that the Department of Environmental Protection might react badly if sand and salt from the snow removal make its way into the Connecticut River down below.

It seems to us, however, that these obstacles could melt away if it’s determined that keeping the bridge sidewalks clear and usable by people year-round is important. Then the towns could take on the responsibility of doing the work, including having money in the budget.

Meanwhile, officials could talk to the state DOT and DEP, to make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to the bridge sidewalk clearing.

Coming up with a plan — provided that the motive is strong enough — isn’t that hard.

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