Editorial: Small bridge program a huge relief

  • Ice forms on the branches of trees from moisture from the North River at the Arthur A Smith Covered Bridge in Colrain. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Published: 4/4/2017 1:28:27 PM

You can’t get there from here. That’s no joke for many small towns in the area who have small bridges that are so old and dilapidated that they have been closed or are about to be.

Closed bridges cause detours that alter people’s lives and in some instances pose serious public safety hazards if rescuers are delayed in doing their job.

Since many of these bridges are town-owned and not much more than glorified culverts, they don’t qualify for federal funding. But they still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace, and therefore, are a huge burden to the small towns of Franklin County.

Happily, this year the state has come through with special funding for these small bridges, which disproportionately affect towns in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

We were thrilled to hear last week that the state Department of Transportation is giving a total of $3 million to six Franklin County towns to preserve, repair or replace dilapidated small bridges.

The Baker-Polito administration gave out $16 million to 36 communities statewide, specifically to aid in construction on municipally owned bridges between 10- and 20-feet-long that aren’t eligible for federal aid.

The Franklin County recipients are: Ashfield, Charlemont, Colrain, Warwick, Wendell and Whately — each getting about a half million dollars.

In some cases, the money is essential to replace bridges that have been deemed unsafe for travel and already closed. Warwick’s grant, for example, will allow the town to replace the Gale Road bridge that was closed in October.

“After the bridge (was closed), there were quite a few families who had to leave Warwick in order to get to other places in Warwick,” said Town Coordinator David Young, explaining it was necessary to travel to Orange and then backtrack. “To get to these certain properties, you had to come at it in a nonstandard way.”

Young said he was particularly concerned about the public safety response in case of emergencies.

All of these towns would have been hard-pressed to fund these projects. Young noted that in Warwick’s case, for example, it would have taken more than two years of the town’s state highway aid, given each year, to apply toward a variety of routine road repair projects.

The small bridge program was signed into law last August by Gov. Charlie Baker, and over the course of five years, will award $50 million to cities and towns with small bridges that “are at high risk for full or partial closure in the near future due to their present conditions.”

“Bridges are more than just structures,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said when she announced the grants last week. “They link people to schools, jobs and other important destinations.”

She got that right, especially in the rural towns of western Mass., which have far less money than the state’s larger, more densely settled urban communities. This funding was smart policy from Boston officials who too often don’t see or help fix the problems of rural Masschusetts.

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