State outlines vision for Schell Bridge replacement

 

Greenfield Recorder 11/03/2014, Page A01

By DAVID RAINVILLE Recorder Staff

NORTHFIELD — The longclosed Schell Bridge could be replaced with a bike and pedestrian river crossing by the end of the decade.

It will likely be three or four years before the project is ready to put out to bid, according to Richard Masse, district project development engineer for the state Department of Transportation. Construction is expected to take about a year.

Built in 1903, the bridge provided motorists a way between east and west Northfield, but was closed in 1985 due to deterioration. By 1987, it was slated for demolition, and bids for the job were awarded in 1999, but it was never razed.

In 2004, the Friends of Schell Bridge formed to save the structure. Despite their preference for rehabilitating the old bridge, the group is happy with the plan to replace the structure with a bikeway inspired by the Schell. Parts from the old bridge may be used in the new one or in small “pocket parks” at either end, according to the DOT.

Dozens turned out to hear from the DOT, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Franklin Regional Council of Governments and legislators and have their questions answered Thursday at Northfield Elementary School.

The demolition and replacement will cost somewhere in the ballpark of $5 million, according to Masse, though that figure will change as the project moves along. The bridge’s cost will be paid with 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funds.

The project is eligible for federal congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program funds, which are earmarked for alternative modes of transportation, Masse said, so it won’t be competing with road and vehicular bridge projects for money.

Engineering firm WSP Sells has been hired for preliminary project engineering, which will define the overall scope of the project and come up with an approach for demolition.

The next step will be a year-long comprehensive analysis and report on the existing structure. Masse said the DOT’s hazardous materials unit will assist in the demolition plan, because the bridge “almost assuredly contains lead paint or treated wood.”

Engineers will examine the bridge’s abutments and piers to see if they are suitable for the new bridge.

Masse said the length of the bridge’s middle span may be problematic. The piers are 350 feet apart.

Though the bridge will be meant for bikes and pedestrians, it will be designed to support up to 10 tons, so emergency vehicles can cross it, said Masse. He said the length of the middle span may prohibit it from carrying that much weight, and a third pier may be needed in the middle of the bridge.

Another option would be to “squeeze” each pier about five feet toward the center of the river, shortening the span to 340 feet, said Al Stegeman, DOT district 2 highway director.

Resident Joanne McGee pointed out that the width of the middle span may be part of the reason the bridge is still standing today, while bridges downriver were wiped out by ice floes in the 1930s. While the Connecticut River hasn’t iced over south of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant since it came online, ice could again become a concern after the plant shuts down this year.

The report will also contain an estimate of the cost to rehabilitate the existing bridge for comparison purposes. During the report stage, the DOT will also pursue rights of way for access.

Masse said the new bridge will be based on the look of the old one.

“Certain prefabricated structures won’t lend themselves to that, though,” he said. Masse said a “built-inplace” bridge could more closely mimic the Schell, but would be more costly.

Parts from the old bridge might be reused in the new structure, or incorporated into a small park at either end of the bridge.

While the state Department of Conservation and Recreation has announced it will take ownership of the bridge and its maintenance and repair costs, the town may own the parks at either end. Northfield has begun to form a Community Park Committee, charged with identifying opportunities for a town park. Outdoor recreation and town parks are among the top priorities of the town’s recent master plan.

You can reach David Rainville at:drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279On Twitter, follow @RecorderRain