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Deficient bridges

Work set to begin on two town spans

Car and pedestrian traffic crosses the “structurally deficient” Charlton Street bridge late Monday afternoon. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
July 27, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — DPW Director Ken Kalinowski doesn't have a bridge to sell you, but he does have a few to repair.

Starting next week, two of them are getting that treatment back-to-back — Charlton and Vinton streets. The plan is to close them one at a time, rerouting traffic around them for 10 to 14 days each. The Charlton Street detour is still being worked out with the police department, but will probably involve going through the Reynolds/Lyon neighborhood.

"They've just been patched with cold patch for years," Kalinowski said, noting that material (asphalt) doesn't bond well with the bridge's concrete.

To Charlton Street resident Jimmy Vegas, a recent transplant from Worcester, closing the bridge is a bad idea. He said he's "all down for construction," but recommended doing it by closing just half of the span at once.

That's for both personal and business reasons. He said he doesn't relish "going all the way around" — he spoke during a walk with his family — but also noted that a couple local businesses, most notably Schott Fiberoptics, need that route for deliveries. Vegas said he didn't think large trucks could navigate the narrower side streets safely, especially given how many children live there.

"Schott is dependent on trucking all day long," he said, "… but those trucks can't make the turns."

Kalinowski spoke prior to Vegas'comments and had gone home, so he could not be reached for further details on this issue. He noted, however, that while the decks of the bridges are "in pretty poor condition," the superstructure and abutments are in decent shape. They both have minor cracks and rust, "but that's what you'd expect to find," he said.

"A 50-year life span is pretty much what's expected," he added, noting Vinton was built in 1956 and Charlton in 1957.

A local firm, Tully Construction, is rehabbing both of them under a $108,000 contract. Kalinowski said the sidewalks on each will probably reopen within 48 hours, but the roadway needs more time to set and the actual time depends on weather. The goal is to reopen both by Labor Day, he said.

Also in the planning process are repairs to bridges on Alpine Drive and Mill Street. Like Charlton and Vinton, the latter needs deck work, "but is not nearly as bad as these two," he said.

The former, however, is in bad shape and has been labeled "structurally deficient" for years. It's now in "the final stages of design," but its builder, Mass Highway, "won't commit to a date" to start work because of unpredictable funding, Kalinowski said.

According to the Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) website, the state estimates Alpine Drive work will cost about $1.77 million. Its design work began in winter 2004 and construction might begin in fall 2011.

Southbridge has one other bridge on the state's list — North Woodstock Road over the defunct P & W railroad, which is slowly being converted to the Titanic Rail Trail. That project involves demolishing the current bridge and rerouting the road to meet Main Street as a T-junction (instead of in the current oblique angle), bringing the road down to cross the railway at surface level. Its cost estimate is about $2.78 million; design started late last year and construction's slated for winter 2012.

Although the bridge is technically independent from the ongoing project to upgrade Route 169 to the Connecticut line, state and town planners are trying to coordinate the two.

"Due to decades of neglect, more than 500 bridges controlled by [state agencies] or owned by cities and towns are classified as structurally deficient," EOT's Bridge Preservation and Repair Plan for 2009-2011 states. "At current funding levels, left unchecked, that number would increase to close to 700 structurally deficient bridges in the next eight years."

By state definition, "structurally deficient" means a bridge scores a 4 or lower on a scale of 0 to 9, based on a combination of factors. Such a label does not mean the bridge is unsafe, just that it has significantly deteriorated over time; a score of 0 means the bridge has failed, is unsafe, and needs to be closed. The plan aims to fix bridges that already are in that state "or would otherwise become [so]" in the next few years, it states.

But it's a daunting task.

"Under current spending trends, for each structurally deficient bridge that is repaired, another bridge slips into structural deficiency," the report states. "In order to address this trend, the Commonwealth needs to repair or replace approximately 2.1 bridges to achieve a net decrease of one structurally deficient bridge."

Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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