By Nancy Arsenault
The Board of Selectmen and a packed meeting room heard a presentation from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Tuesday night about impending plans to partially close one lane of the Gleasondale Bridge for a period of years.
In approximately two weeks, the eastern side of the bridge, which spans the Assabet River at the Gleasondale Mill on Rt. 62, will be closed to vehicular traffic. The western side will remain open, but as just one lane for those traveling both north and south. Traffic will be controlled by a mechanical timer and stop light system that senses the presence of approaching traffic and also the extent of traffic back-up. The light will alter wait times, based on which side has a longer line of vehicles.
Apologizing for the short notice given to the Town, which only came late last week, and for lack of communication to abutters, Mohammed Nabulsi , Bridge Engineer for Mass DOT, said the current condition of the bridge is a threat to public safety and therefore, the traffic load has to be restricted to only one side. This pattern will be in place while a new bridge design and construction plan is developed, and also during the eventual construction period. Total time to completion could be anywhere from 6-8 years, he said.
Inspection reports and photos of specific points on the bridge show that the western side is not as severely damaged as the eastern side, and can handle the traffic volume while the disintegrating side is closed, said Nabulsi. Structural damage to the steel beams underneath the eastern deck and supporting the overall structure have been severely impacted by salt and water damage over the 68-year life span of the bridge, with photos showing decay, rot and large holes in the structure.
“This bridge is at the end of its service life,” said Nabulsi, and is on a list of some of the worst bridges in the state, with classifications of “poor” and “serious” next to every DOT evaluation criteria. The report states that the deterioration is so great as to be beyond repair. Only the slightly better condition of the western side is allowing the span to remain open and not fully shut down, said Nabulsi, emphasizing that there is no threat to public safety for vehicles moving along that side.
Selectman Tom Ryan questioned how this one-lane bridge might serve the volume of apple picking traffic that comes into and out of Stow along this route, particularly those visiting Honey Pot. He asked if the police might be able to have a control to operate the traffic light manually when traffic warrants. Resident Bill Ross asked how school buses would navigate through the pattern and that they would have to build in the wait times. All of these topics were noted by the DOT officials for future response.
Laurel Cohen was not enthusiastic about lines of traffic waiting their turn in front of driveways, for what could be years. “That is one of my biggest fears,” she said. Others were concerned about pedestrian access across the span and also up and down the road alongside it. Access for bicyclists was mentioned, and many were concerned about the continuing use of the restricted bridge by truck traffic.
Joe Crowley, Mass DOT Traffic Engineer said that when a bridge is restricted or closed, the DOT must also offer alternative routes if they exist, and so far, they have not found a better route for the trucks. While some residents suggested detours to Hudson Road, it was stated that the Cox Street bridge in Hudson, that connects to Hudson Road, is restricted to heavy truck traffic. In Stow, Sudbury Road has weight restrictions, coming in off State Road, due to limitations on the Sudbury Road bridge.
The Selectmen said that many drivers will look to avoid the situation and that will increase the volume of cars on Hudson Road, Randall Road and other escape points from Rt. 62. The Board suggested that Mass DOT also look at these factors and how they must be addressed.
Resident Jeri DiPietro was thanked by the Selectmen for bringing the issue to their attention and contacting DOT to come out and meet with abutters. Mohammed Nabulsi said this project is a priority for Mass DOT and he believes it will be moved through the process as quickly as possible, though funding for the construction has still not been granted. Mary Cutler praised the DOT for meeting with neighborhood residents earlier in the day and listening to their concerns. “I’m glad something is finally getting done. I hope I live to see it finished.”
Editor’s Note: The content from the remainder of the Selectmen meeting will be published in the Dec. 16 edition of The Stow Independent.