After decades-long debate, covered bridge to reopen to vehicular traffic

  • A decades-long debate about the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge on Lyonsville Road in Colrain was settled with the Selectboard’s vote to reopen the historic bridge to vehicular traffic. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2020 4:13:41 PM

COLRAIN — A decades-long debate about the future of the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge was settled recently with the Selectboard’s vote to reopen the historic bridge to vehicular traffic.

“I’m awfully glad to see it’s going to be opened,” said David Nims, chair of the Historical Commission.

The bridge on Lyonsville Road will open to two-way motor vehicle traffic as soon as the town receives and posts height and weight limit signs, as is required by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since the early 1980s, according to Jonathan LaGreze, chair of the Friends of the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge. Although the bridge underwent a restoration in 2007, it never reopened to cars and trucks.

Instead, the bridge has been open only to pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and snowmobiles.

The request to reopen the bridge to vehicular traffic appeared in June as a citizen’s petition on the Annual Town Meeting warrant. The petition sought to authorize the Selectboard to set times and conditions under which vehicles may pass through the bridge, and to authorize measures — such as speed bumps or additional signs — to ensure vehicles abide by the rules.

At the meeting, however, the vote was postponed indefinitely.

“While I was in favor of opening the bridge, I felt there were a number of questions that needed to be answered before we could actually open the bridge,” said Selectboard member Joe Kurland.

At the recommendation of Selectboard members at Annual Town Meeting, a subsequent petition, signed by roughly 30 residents, was then brought to the Selectboard, once again asking to restore the bridge “to its intended use.”

“We have new selectmen now and they have other thoughts,” said Nims, speaking to past board members’ decision to keep the bridge closed. “I was very happy when they suggested getting a petition to open the bridge.”

Kurland said he felt the petition, which was reviewed at the Aug. 28 board meeting, signaled “sufficient town support” for going ahead with reopening the bridge to traffic.

He explained that reopening the bridge was always within the authority of the Selectboard, but at Annual Town Meeting he had a few concerns with the state’s advised weight limit and what signs would need to be posted.

“In the meantime, I called the traffic engineer at the Department of Transportation, and felt kind of reassured by the things I was told there,” Kurland said. “By the time it came up for a vote in the Selectboard, I was feeling ready to go ahead.”

Kurland explained he initially thought the state’s advised weight limit was “too excessive.”

At the Aug. 28 Selectboard meeting, residents spoke in favor of and against reopening the bridge. At least one neighbor expressed concern for an increase in traffic on her road, were the bridge to open.

“Right now, all of the traffic goes through Foundry Village (Road), where there are houses with children,” Kurland said. “So in some sense, I’m not sure the amount of traffic that would go over the bridge would be any more of a hazard than the traffic going through Foundry Village.”

He also said some residents raised concerns for the safety of traveling over the bridge — in particular, the damage that could be caused to the bridge were someone to get into an accident. In terms of addressing those concerns, Kurland said there are still details being worked out by the Highway Department. Speed limit postings and stop signs at either end of the bridge, he said, could potentially slow down vehicles to prevent those types of accidents.

Town Coordinator Kevin Fox said he notified MassDOT the morning after the Selectboard’s vote, and was informed the state would provide weight and height limit postings.

“Once we get those and we put the signs up,” he said, “we’ll remove the bollards, and we’ll officially be open to vehicular traffic.”

The Selectboard is also finalizing a Smith Bridge Use Policy, which would address the use of the bridge and surrounding property for public or private events.

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy