Safety barriers, General Pierce Bridge repairs on tap for completion in 2023

  • The General Pierce Bridge over the Connecticut River between Greenfield and Montague is currently slated to reopen in March. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State and local police, first responders and the Northfield Dive and Rescue Team respond to a reported jumper on the French King Bridge in March. The project to install 9-foot-tall safety barriers at the bridge is slated for completion in 2023. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The French King Bridge between Gill and Erving. The project to install 9-foot-tall safety barriers at the bridge is slated for completion in 2023. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Church Street Bridge in Erving. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/29/2022 5:35:53 PM
Modified: 12/29/2022 5:35:08 PM

Looking into 2023 from the windows of Town Hall, officials in Montague, Gill and Erving foresee a year defined by the finales of long-term projects.

“As we think about each year, we constantly have an eye on today and an eye on the future,” Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis explained. “There’s some really exciting things happening in each time frame.”


The reopening of the General Pierce Bridge, Avenue A streetscape improvements and early steps toward new town buildings highlight Montague’s next year.

Should all go as planned, the first quarter of the year will see the completion of work on the General Pierce Bridge, a primary route between Montague and Greenfield that was closed on April 26, 2021 for structural repairs. The $13.7 million project is being carried out by Northern Construction Service and is mainly focused on both rebuilding the deck and replacing some of the steel support structure below. The bridge is currently slated to reopen in March.

Despite these repairs ensuring the bridge’s structural integrity for another 25 years, MassDOT is in the process of selecting a designer and establishing a scope and schedule for a full replacement of the bridge, according to Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. Full replacement is unlikely to occur for several years, Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz projected.

Additionally, officials are excited about the final stages of the Avenue A Streetscape Improvement Project, which recently received $975,000 in federal funding as announced by U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern and Richard Neal last week. The project, which predominantly entails sidewalk renovations in an effort to “improve the visual appeal and walkability of the village center,” also makes the heart of the town more handicap-accessible, according to Ellis.

“The scope of this bid-ready project includes replacing the aged brick sidewalks between First and Third streets on the even side, and between First and Second streets on the odd side of the avenue,” Ellis detailed previously in an email to the Selectboard. “Decorative brick features will be retained, but integrated into a concrete concourse to enhance longevity/accessibility. Pedestrian-scale lighting will be installed between First and Second streets to match the existing downtown scheme.”

The plans for a revised streetscape were designed three years ago using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, according to Ellis. Completion of the project, which would have taken three to four more years worth of CDBG funding rounds prior to the latest federal award, could now be completed in late 2023 or mid-2024, Ellis said. The timeline, he continued, depends on how quickly Montague receives the federal aid.

Other exploratory improvements Ellis voiced excitement about include both a prospective new elementary school and a prospective new Carnegie Public Library. The town will be “hearing proposals” on both accounts into 2023, he said.

Montague Public Libraries Director Caitlin Kelley and the library trustees have been engaging in conversation about the eventual replacement of the Carnegie Public Library on Avenue A in Turners Falls. They discussed the prospect of constructing a modern library after a community survey showed 70% of responses advocating for accessibility improvements as a priority. The Carnegie Public Library does not conform with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. The Selectboard voted Dec. 19 to appropriate $35,250 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for a feasibility study that will explore the possibility of a new library.

The idea for a new school was originally brought to the Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee as what Superintendent Brian Beck dubbed “more or less of a brainstorm” before it was discussed with the Selectboard on March 8. The school district’s Director of Business and Operations Joanne Blier said at the time that the new facility — estimated by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to cost $55 million — would be constructed alongside the current Sheffield Elementary School and classes would be moved out of the older Hillcrest Elementary School.

“We’re looking at everything from a long-term capital planning perspective and I’m looking at this year as a year where Montague is really sharpening its vision for the coming decade,” Ellis said, arguing that there is a “tremendous basis for optimism and excitement” in Montague.

Gill and Erving

While one of the area’s most significant developments anticipated for 2023 spans both Gill and Erving, its relevance realistically extends through the state and beyond.

The project to install 9-foot-tall safety barriers at the French King Bridge, which has garnered a reputation as a destination for suicides, is slated for completion in 2023. After initial delay due to being kept off the state Department of Transportation’s Capital Investment Plan in the spring of 2020, the preliminary construction process began last May. Work continued through the fall before being put on hold for the winter, and will pick up again in the spring. Erving Town Administrator Bryan Smith said the project remains on track for completion in 2023.

“This long-awaited project is the result of many years of advocacy from the many tragedies that have been experienced at the bridge,” Smith wrote in an email, “along with the risks presented to the first responders that are called upon to respond to incidents at that location.”

Gill Police Chief Christopher Redmond said previously that while he doesn’t know a “definitive answer” as to how many people have died by suicide at the bridge, he estimates the number to be somewhere in “the mid-20s” since when he joined the Gill Police Department in 1992. Police responding to someone threatening to jump, however, has been “almost a weekly occurrence,” Redmond said.

Timed with the project’s completion, town officials in Gill and Erving are collaborating to install a plaque in memory of lives lost to suicide there. The concept was initiated by Oxford resident Stacey Hamel, whose stepson, Bryan Hamel, was suspected to have jumped from the bridge in 2018. The plaque would remember those who lost their lives, as well as show support for grieving loved ones and honor first responders.

In other projects, Gill Town Administrator Ray Purington highlighted Gill’s application for the Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant Program to benefit climate resiliency efforts as another development to look forward to in 2023. Additionally, he voiced excitement for Gill’s participation in the Mass in Motion age-friendly program in an effort to promote “opportunities for healthy eating and active living in the places people live, learn, work and play,” as articulated in a Mass in Motion presentation.

For the coming year in Erving, Smith also expressed excitement regarding replacement of the Church Street Bridge, potential for new public art, planning for a shared-use path between Erving and surrounding communities, and Route 2 improvements.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or


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