General Pierce Bridge rehab may expand to include painting

  • The General Pierce Bridge in Montague. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2021 5:04:45 PM

MONTAGUE — The rehabilitation of the General Pierce Bridge may prove to be a bit more complete than what has been discussed so far by the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) — that is, if the state is willing to accept an alternative proposal that has been prepared by the contracted construction firm and endorsed by the Montague Selectboard.

Though the General Pierce Bridge hasn’t closed yet, work on the project began earlier this winter as planned. The intersection of the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge and Route 2 is being modified to suit the extra traffic that will be caused by the closure of the General Pierce.

The General Pierce itself is set to close before the end of the winter, and would reopen in spring of 2023, according to the project manager, Shawn Clark, of the construction firm Northern Construction Service.

The scope for the two-year project has always been considered by the Selectboard to be less complete than what the bridge really needs. MassDOT, which manages the bridge, has said that this project is intentionally a budget-conscious, partial rehabilitation, meant to keep the bridge standing until it can be totally replaced 25 years from now.

The new proposal, which was prepared by Northern Construction Service, would include cleaning and painting the upper trusses — which was lacking in MassDOT’s plan, and has been one of the Selectboard’s main criticisms of the project.

The extra work would bring the project to about $20.5 million — higher than the $18.6 million originally estimated by MassDOT. Whether MassDOT accepts the new proposal from Northern Construction Service will probably come down to whether it has the budget to do it, or whether there is political will to support it, according to Clark.

“The bridge is in terrible shape,” Clark said. “To leave this bridge in shambles in the upper section is odd. But we understand, from the money standpoint, why these things happen.”

A year ago, MassDOT announced its plans for rehabilitating the General Pierce Bridge, which at that point had already been limited to one-way-at-a-time traffic for almost a year — an inconvenient choke point in traveling between Montague and Greenfield.

But, for budget reasons, MassDOT’s plan was not the full treatment of the bridge that many had hoped for. Instead, it was a limited rehabilitation designed to fit a limited budget, and to hold the bridge for another 25 years until, MassDOT says, the bridge will be replaced at an estimated cost of $60 million.

The rehab focuses on the structural integrity of the bridge, replacing some of the underlying steel support and rebuilding the deck.

The lack of a plan to paint the upper trusses, which are flaking and rusting, was criticized as soon as MassDOT announced it. The Selectboard has emphasized that a fresh coat of paint would help to keep the metal from deteriorating, and of course would look better.

So, the board welcomed the proposal from Northern Construction Service, which was discussed in a meeting on Monday.

The extra work would be worth $6.7 million. However, Northern Construction Service’s bid for the project was only $13.8 million, whereas MassDOT’s original estimate was $18.6 million.

The timeline of the amended project would still be shorter than MassDOT’s original estimate of a three-year closure.

Northern Construction Service plans to fully close the bridge by the end of the winter, would largely finish the currently proposed work by fall of 2022, and would then finish the painting in spring of 2023, according to Clark.

The Selectboard agreed to endorse Northern Construction Service’s proposal. It remains to be seen how it may be received by MassDOT.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-930-4231.

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