Articles for Schell Bridge rebuild on Town Meeting warrant

  • The Schell Bridge separating East and West Northfield has been closed for years. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 5:10:53 PM

NORTHFIELD — Town voters will be able to voice their support for the Schell Bridge reconstruction project through two votes at Annual Town Meeting next month.

Schell Bridge Advisory Committee Chair Judy Wagner said the two articles related to the Schell Bridge reconstruction represent a “key moment” in the continued work to bring the project to fruition.

“This warrant is really a key piece,” she said. “This is our commitment to make the whole thing move forward.”

Northfield’s Annual Town Meeting will be held May 3, at 7 p.m. at the Pioneer Valley Regional School gymnasium.

Wagner said the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is working through technical aspects of the project, and articles on the warrant ask voters to give the town the required approval to complete certain legal requirements for the project to continue forward.

“Basically this is all the paperwork that has to be done to dispose of the responsibilities the town has for this project and land,” Wagner explained.

Article 31 asks the town to authorize the Selectboard to acquire easements for certain land parcels located along East Northfield Road. Wagner said this is a legal requirement to finalize plans for a small park and parking near the bridge site.

The second article related to the Schell Bridge reconstruction project, Article 32, asks the town to approve funds to pay for the right-of-way expenses and agreements with the state. While the warrant does not include a dollar amount, Town Administrator Andrea Llamas said the town will have a projected cost by the meeting on May 3.

Whenever an expenditure is required for legal work, it needs to be approved by town voters, Wagner said. She also noted this expense would be the only true cost that Northfield is required to pay for the Schell Bridge project.

According to Wagner, local residents have been pushing to construct a new Schell Bridge since before it was even closed in 1985. Interest continued for decades, and in 2004 the Friends of Schell Bridge was formed.

“They made a commitment to the town, and Selectboard at that time, that they would do the legwork to see what kind of crossing would be possible,” Wagner said.

When the project started moving forward with MassDOT in 2017, the Schell Bridge Advisory Committee was formed to help guide the town’s participation and shepherd public involvement. Wagner said one caveat is that the reconstructed bridge will be a pedestrian and recreational bridge, and vehicles will not be allowed to cross.

The continued effort has gained interest of previous and current state representatives, including Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and acquired roughly $20 million in funding through the state and federal Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Thanks to this funding, Wagner and Llamas said the only true cost for Northfield is the cost to pay for the easement acquisition and right-of-way expenses, including associated engineering work.

“They’re not asking for any construction funds,” Llamas said.

The final structure will be owned and maintained by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Wagner and Llamas said. The department will also handle liability coverage.

“My hat’s really off to the Friends of Schell Bridge, elected officials and town departments,” Wagner said. “There were lots of moving parts that had to be coaxed together, and they did it.”

In September 2020, MassDOT gave a presentation when the project reached the 25 percent design stage. The project is expected to complete the 75 percent design stage “imminently.”

“The minute it hits 75 percent, then I’m told things really start to fast forward,” she said.

If voters approve the articles, the project should stay on track to reach the 100 percent design stage this fall, with construction aimed to start in spring of 2022. Wagner also said she heard MassDOT might be interested in moving the bidding process for the project up, pending Annual Town Meeting results.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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