State narrows possible designs for Schell Bridge replacement

  • Moss grows on the decommissioned Schell Bridge in Northfield as the sun sets over the Connecticut River. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Schell Bridge separating East and West Northfield has been closed for years. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 07, 2017

NORTHFIELD — After presenting Northfield residents with eight possible designs for the Schell Memorial Bridge’s replacement, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has narrowed the scope to three.

According to Judy Wagner, chairwoman of the Schell Bridge Advisory Committee, community feedback largely indicated residents would like a bridge that’s visually similar to the existing structure, with Concepts 1, 2 and 3 of the eight being the most familiar.

“My guess is that they were the ones that looked closest to the existing bridge,” Wagner said of the three remaining designs. “People are very fond of the way the elements crisscross and form a pattern. The arch was the thing that rose to the top.”

Representatives from MassDOT and WSP, a construction design firm, presented the eight designs to about 50 residents during community forum in June. While some concepts resembled the historic bridge, which was closed in 1985 because it had deteriorated too far for safe use, others were more modern.

Residents provided feedback on each design, and Wagner said she received another 50 comments online following the meeting, which she forwarded to MassDOT. She feels the three remaining designs are good representations of the community’s input.

“It was highly reflective of the community’s sentiment,” Wagner said of the narrowed down replacement options. “The pattern was pretty clear, so we were pleased to see they picked some that were in line with the bulk of sentiment.”

Concept 1, according to a Friends of Schell Bridge newsletter, is a steel truss bridge with not as high an arch as the existing bridge. However, community input indicated the design was “highly favored if the arch could be made more like the current Schell.”

Wagner said there is a possibility of incorporating different design elements from the three concepts, such as a higher curve or a new bridge’s connection to the existing abutments, which could be reused.

“It’s not quite as simple as one, two, three,” she said.

Concept 2 would involve a prefabricated steel arch or tunable system. Concept 2 involves much taller arches than Concept 1, though the newsletter states the community suggested a cleaner, one-height railing.

Concept 3, a steel tied arch with a concrete deck, would offer a cleaner railing, and has arches in between those of Concepts 1 and 2. The non-vertical cables of Concept 3, the newsletter explains, are more reminiscent of the current bridge than the vertical cables on Concept 2. Input was mixed on incorporating vertical or non-vertical cables.

“To me, it’s the most visually appealing,” Northfield Selectwoman Julia Blyth said of Concept 3, after perusing the eight possibilities back at June’s community forum.

Wagner said MassDOT representatives are expected to convene in early 2018 to discuss their progress and “where that leads them in terms of design and cost elements.” MassDOT’s original estimate to replace the structure was $16.3 million, though MassDOT and WSP representatives said more refined cost estimates are still to come.

“Hopefully it’ll be something people will be excited about,” Wagner said of the future meeting. “I think once we get past the next step or two, I think there’ll be a rush of information to process.”

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

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