Comerford, Whipps taking comments on French King Bridge safety barriers

  • Town officials in Erving and Gill have been lobbying for years for safety barriers to be installed at the French King Bridge, citing the bridge’s unfortunate reputation as a destination for suicide attempts. STAFF FILE PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 2/10/2021 4:57:43 PM

With new information about safety modifications at the French King Bridge expected to be released at the end of this month, state Rep. Susannah Whipps and state Sen. Jo Comerford are holding an online public comment session Thursday night to hear locals’ opinions on the project.

Town officials in Erving and Gill have been lobbying for years for safety barriers to be installed at the French King Bridge, citing the bridge’s unfortunate reputation as a destination for suicide attempts.

The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT), which manages the French King Bridge, has already begun preliminary engineering work for the project, and has listed it in its multi-year budget projections released in 2018 and 2019.

But last year, presumably because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MassDOT’s regular budget release was only a one-year outlook, and the French King Bridge project was not listed. Erving and Gill town officials expressed concern that the project had been deprioritized, and that it might hang in limbo indefinitely.

Now, MassDOT is scheduled to present a design for the project on Feb. 25, which will likely also include a timeline for construction.

However, a normal public hearing is not being held. Instead, MassDOT will accept written comments by email after the Feb. 25 release of the design, until March 11. Comments can be sent to MassDOT Chief Engineer Patricia A. Leavenworth at dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us.

The two local legislators are holding their own public comment session out of a desire to hear directly from their constituents who may have been affected by the bridge, said Whipps, I-Athol.

“It’s just something we felt was important to do,” Whipps said. “I want to give people the opportunity to say what they need to say. Sometimes it doesn’t translate as well in writing as it does hearing from somebody.”

She noted that some locals have lost loved ones who took their own lives at the bridge. It is also a dangerous situation for emergency workers responding to calls, as they are working around the edge of the bridge and the banks of the Connecticut River below, she added.

Comerford, D-Northampton, said increasing safety at the bridge is one of the top priorities she has heard when speaking with Erving and Gill residents.

“It’s an iconic structure in our region,” she said. “It means a good deal to a lot of people. But we must ensure greater safety around the bridge for everyone — for first responders and for community members.”

The online public comment session is Thursday at 6 p.m. Those who are interested can register for the Zoom meeting at bit.ly/3aT1p5Z.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231. Domenic Poli contributed to this report.


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