Municipalities express concerns with General Pierce Bridge project

  • The General Pierce Bridge has been reduced to one-way-at-a-time traffic since June, and won’t be fully restored until summer 2024. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2020 9:15:00 PM

MONTAGUE — With a public comment deadline of Friday, the Selectboard is sending a letter to the state outlining its concerns about the General Pierce Bridge construction project.

Concerns include installing functional lighting, scraping the rust off the bridge and repainting it, and addressing the approaches to and from the bridge on either side.

“We want to make sure they’re identifying every problem with the bridge, including its upper structure,” Town Administrator Steve Ellis said. “Frankly, it’s not unreasonable both to remediate any safety concerns that might remain there and request reasonable aesthetics around a bridge that they, in fact, described as ... uniquely situated and that should be an asset for the community visually as well as in its utilitarian value.”

Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said Tuesday the city is aligned with Montague’s concerns.

“We are about safety and the aesthetics for the simple reason, not just because we want to make it safe and fix it, but if it looks rusty when people approach it, people won’t assume its safe,” Wedegartner said. “They won’t see all of the work that was done.”

Not only does the city want there to be a new paint job on the entirety of the bridge, she said, but for it to be accessible for all modes of traffic.

“We want it to be ADA-accessible, well lit on the pedestrian side and to be done in such a way that accommodates multiple mobilities — walking, biking, that sort of thing,” Wedegartner said. “All of which aligns with our Complete Streets policies as well as Montague’s.”

A plan and a timeline for restoring the General Pierce Bridge, which links Montague and Greenfield, to once again be safe for two-way traffic was announced by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and its engineering consulting firm WSP (this name is not an acronym) at a public forum last week.

To restore the bridge to full service, it will be closed for construction from summer 2021 to summer 2024.

Ellis added that the municipalities hope the construction schedule can be expedited, such as “two work shifts per day rather than one, (which) could be possible, and we’d like to see thoughtful sequencing of work to ensure winter seasons are as productive as possible.”

“We’ve all seen them working at all hours of the day and night on projects to get them done,” Ellis said.

This project is not a total replacement of the bridge, but a rehabilitation project for code compliance. Parts of the steel support structure will be replaced, and the deck will be rebuilt and repaved.

Selectboard member Michael Nelson said people at last week’s meeting were “caught off guard” and spoke with Ellis about scheduling a meeting with their counterparts in Greenfield.

Ellis and Nelson met with Wedegartner and City Council President Ashli Stempel on Monday afternoon as well as Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, by phone to speak about the subject. Ellis said there will be a future collaboration between the two municipalities to submit a second letter to MassDOT.

“We had a great conversation and came to an agreement on what direction we’d be heading in and as a result, Steve was expeditious enough to put together a one-pager of thoughts and concerns about it,” Nelson said at the Selectboard meeting Monday.

First, Ellis said he wanted to express appreciation “that somewhere between $17 and $22 million or so is about to be spent on rehabilitating the bridge.” However, there were concerns and proposed changes to “the margins of the project.”

One process, which is already underway, is asking MassDOT to meet with Montague, Greenfield, Gill and other public safety officials for discussion of “what needs to be done to ensure response time increases are managed down to an absolute minimum as part of the project.”

According to the presentation last week, maximizing the investment is not the plan, however. This proposed rehabilitation is seen by MassDOT as a temporary solution, expected to last 25 years, according to Richard Massey of MassDOT’s District 2 office.

A full replacement was considered, but was estimated to cost at least $60 million. Massey said MassDOT can only handle projects as funding allows.

“This is not the time to advocate for a new bridge that would cost $60 million. The money is not there,” Ellis said. “We’d be waiting for several years. We’d likely be suffering through a long-term closure before we even got to the point (where) our advocacy was successful.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

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