Safety barriers to be installed at French King Bridge in 2022

  • A rendering from MassDOT of the new safety barriers that will be installed at the French King Bridge between Gill and Erving in the summer of 2022. CONTRIBUTED

  • The French King Bridge connects Route 2 over the Connecticut River between Gill and Erving. STAFF FILE PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 2/25/2021 6:40:13 PM

Safety barriers are set to be added to the French King Bridge in the summer of 2022, after years of advocacy from the town governments of Gill and Erving.

The plan was announced Thursday morning by the state Department of Transportation, which owns the bridge. The project will be funded 80 percent by the Federal Highway Administration, and 20 percent by MassDOT.

The French King Bridge, which connects Route 2 over the Connecticut River between Gill and Erving, is known for its views of the Connecticut River but it has also developed an unfortunate reputation as a site for suicide attempts.

For that reason, officials in both towns have said in recent years that the safety issues at the French King Bridge are among their top priorities. State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, have also supported efforts for new safety measures at the bridge, and held a public comment session on the topic earlier this month.

Announcing the plan on Thursday, MassDOT Project Manager Alwin Ramirez and David Comerford of MassDOT’s contracted design firm Gill Engineering explained that the project seeks to balance the historic importance of the bridge with modern safety concerns.

“It is one of the most iconic structures in Massachusetts,” David Comerford said.

The new safety barrier will be 9 feet tall, and is intended to match the style of the bridge and limit disrupting the view of the river, he said. The design was endorsed by the Selectboards of Gill and Erving.

By comparison, the existing barrier, which David Comerford said is original to the bridge’s 1932 construction, is about 3½ feet tall.

While the primary purpose of the project is to address safety concerns, the project will also be the first rehabilitation of the French King Bridge since 1991, he said. A protective railing between the road and the sidewalk has deteriorated, creating new potential safety issues, and the sidewalk has crumbled.

Both those issues will be fixed in the new project.

“The reason for this project is that the current railing on the bridge is substandard,” Ramirez said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2022, and would be complete within that construction season, Ramirez said. Design work is now 25 percent complete, and is expected to be finished by this June.

Traffic will not be detoured during construction, but the lanes will be shifted somewhat to allow space for workers, David Comerford said. Pedestrian walkways will be made available, but the sidewalks will be closed while construction is going on.

Comments on the design can be submitted to MassDOT by mail, and must be postmarked within 10 days of Feb. 25. Written comments should be mailed to Patricia A. Leavenworth, P.E., Chief Engineer, MassDOT, 10 Park Plaza, Boston 02116, Attention: Major Projects, Project File No. 608056.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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