Town wants temporary bridge over Poland Brook in Conway

  • The second bridge on North Poland Road is closed until further notice after the Massachusetts Department of Transportation deemed it unsafe on Nov. 4. The town has written a letter to MassDOT requesting a temporary bridge be installed so residents are not cut off from Route 116. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2022 8:06:41 PM

CONWAY — With the closure of North Poland Road’s second bridge, the Selectboard has written to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation requesting a temporary bridge be installed to ease the burden on residents and the town.

After a Nov. 4 inspection, MassDOT deemed the bridge unsafe for travel and closed it until further notice. While necessary, the closure of the bridge cuts off 98 households from Route 116 and may cause headaches for residents, school buses and emergency services as winter weather rolls in, according to a letter read Monday evening that was signed by the Selectboard, Fire Chief Bob Baker, Conway Ambulance Director Gemma VanderHeld, Police Chief Kenneth Ouimette, Highway Superintendent Ron Sweet, Town Administrator Veronique Blanchard, Union 38 Superintendent Darius Modestow and Conway Grammar School Principal Kristen Gordon. 

“The closed bridge is on a critical throughway for those living in the area,” states the letter, which was addressed to MassDOT District 1 Highway Director Francisca Heming. “Unfortunately, there simply isn’t an alternate solution to detour, particularly in the winter months.”

The bridge has been on MassDOT’s replacement schedule for 2024 and the Selectboard said the town will undergo “severe hardship” if it does not get a temporary bridge to span that two-year gap. Blanchard said MassDOT was aware of the structural integrity of the bridge and had been conducting quarterly inspections.

The 81-year-old bridge, which crosses the Poland Brook, spans approximately 70 feet and handles 776 vehicles crossing over each day, according to the federal government’s bridge inventory data. The data also shows the bridge’s condition was categorized as “poor.”

Specific concerns include increased emergency response time, which may increase by 10 to 15 minutes in good weather, let alone snow or heavy rain; inability to access a dry fire hydrant on North Poland Road, along with some mutual aid partners being unable to travel on certain roads due to weight restrictions; and the re-routing of school buses that may increase student travel time to more than an hour each way, while also affecting school transportation budget costs.

“If the current timeline stands, having this bridge closed for two years will be a severe hardship. We have expended all of our Chapter 90 monies and have no other funds available to construct a new bridge,” the letter reads. “Given all these hardships, the town respectfully requests installation of a temporary bridge before the winter weather sets in.”

Bullit Road, one of the detour routes, branches off of North Poland Road and also connects with Route 116, is a gravel one-way road that isn’t maintained during the winter.

Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor said in a phone interview he is unsure of any other time the town has requested a temporary bridge in the past, but noted the state did put one in on Route 116 when it was conducting work there years ago.

Without a bridge, Kantor said students could spend more than an hour on the bus in either direction, while also cutting off an essential route for first responders.

“That’s an unfair burden to put on people,” Kantor said of Frontier Regional students that may have their bus times increased. Access to the dry hydrant, he added, is a “really big deal because there’s a substantial number of residents in that area. That’s a problem that it can’t be reached.”

With the letter sent to MassDOT, Kantor said he is hopeful the state will listen to the coalition of the town’s government, first responders and school officials.

“From what I’m told, they’ve been good to us in the past,” Kantor said. “They have the ability to make that happen; we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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