Northfield officials back Schell Bridge measure

 

Greenfield Recorder 10/07/2011, Page C03

Board authorizes town to seek outside funding for engineering evaluation

By DAVID RAINVILLE

Recorder Staff

NORTHFIELD — Closed to traffic since 1985, and slated for demolition since 1987, the Schell Memorial Bridge may be on the road to rehabilitation.

After years of work by the Friends of Schell Bridge, and several attempts to win support from town officials, the Selectboard backed a recent town meeting article authorizing the town to seek outside funds for a comprehensive professional engineering evaluation of the structure. On Sept. 26, voters at the special town meeting passed the article.

Voters were not asked to fund the study with town money, but to authorize officials to reach out to state agencies and politicians, as well as the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, to seek money.

The Selectboard had been hesitant to back the article, believing it may adversely affect the Department of Transportation’s promise to fund the $2 million demolition. However, correspondence between town officials and the DOT quelled these fears. This, and that the article sought no money from the town, was enough assurance for the Selectboard to back the article.

An economic impact study detailing the costs and benefits of rehabilitating the 108 year-old bridge was funded by Friends and completed earlier this year by the Center for Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The study focused on the possible costs of rehabilitating the bridge for use by pedestrians and cyclists, and the revenue such an attraction could bring to the town and county.

The study estimated that, over the first 10 years, a renovated Schell Bridge would bring “close to $15 million” to the county. This figure comes from projected spending on the rehabilitation and future maintenance of the bridge and connected recreational trails, as well as an estimated $843,137 spent annually by 13,000 additional visitors the bridge could attract to Franklin County.

The study estimated that renovations themselves would cost about $7.5 million, but an engineering evaluation would give a more concrete figure.

The board has drafted a letter to be sent to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and state Rep. Paul Mark, requesting that the politicians ask the DOT to perform an updated assessment for the recreational use of the bridge, and to set up a meeting between the town and the DOT, as well as “other interested parties,” to discuss the bridge’s options .

For more about the bridge, and to view the economic impact study, visit:

www.schellbridge.org.