WILMINGTON, MA — Per the request of Selectman Kevin Caira, Wilmington Town Manager Jeff Hull recently provided Selectmen with a report on the condition of the Butters Row Bridge.
The report — written by Town Engineer Paul Alunni, Operations Manager Jamie Magaldi, and Director of Public Works Michael Woods, and based on data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) — was discussed at the Selectmen’s Meeting on Monday, May 8, 2017.
The bridge is in bad shape, but not bad enough shape for the state to act quickly if it were asked to replace it.
The bridge, built in 1920 and reconstructed in 1987, is owned, inspected, operated and maintained by the MassDOT. Some elements of the bridge (e.g., bridge deck, substructure) are rated “fair,” while other elements (e.g., wearing surface, timber curbing) are rated “poor.” The bridge’s overall condition is rated “poor.” Poor is actually just the fifth worse rating, better than “serious,” “critical,” “imminent failure,” and “failed.”
Cargo tied atop a freight train struck the timber stringers and beams on the bridge’s superstructure back in December 2016. A special damage inspection conducted then, coupled with a routine annual inspection in June 2016, had led MassDOT to schedule some minor improvements in the coming months.
MassDOT intends to remove and replace sections of the timber decking and resurface the wearing course during the 2017 construction season. The bridge, however, is currently NOT on any sort of list to be replaced.
“There’s a number of bridges across the state in stages of deterioration. The MassDOT coding system used to the rate the bridges is used to set the priorities,” explained Town Manager Jeff Hull. “It’s essentially a triage process. The state deals with the bridges that are in the greatest jeopardy and are unsafe or borderline unsafe… There’s not a lot of clarity in terms of how long it would take [for the state to replace the bridge] because I don’t know how many bridges are in worse condition.”
Residents in the area can kill any efforts to replace the bridge.
“I’m also told that if there’s any resistance by either town officials or members of the impacted neighborhood, MassDOT won’t fund the project and will move on to the next one,” added Town Manager Jeff Hull. “Back in the early 2000’s, there was a proposal to reconstruct this bridge. We hired an engineer that put a fair amount of work in at the town’s expense… There was a public hearing and a sizable crowd of residents spoke out and was very opposed to doing anything to the bridge. They were concerned that it would generate more traffic and make it much easier for folks to get off Main Street and use the bridge as a cut-through.”
“It’s a bit of a Catch 22,” remarked Selectman Chair Mike Champoux. “Either we leave the bridge in its current condition with modest improvements or we go through the pain, anguish, time and expense of creating a design for a new bridge that we may or may not get depending on how a public meeting goes.”
A newly constructed bridge would likely have to be a two lanes — something many area residents have opposed in the past and, perhaps, in the present.
“It’s my understanding that, to the extent MassDOT would put state money into the reconstruction of the bridge, there’s certain design requirements that would need to be met,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull. “I would be very certain [the state] would not fund a single-lane bridge. It would need to be a two-lane bridge… with sidewalks.” (The bridge currently has no sidewalks.)
“I agree we need to do something, but it was just a couple of months ago when area residents met with the Town Manager and Police Chief to discuss traffic concerns on Butters Row and Chestnut Street. At the meeting, they made it clear they wanted a new bridge, but a single-lane bridge. That message was clear 25 years ago and that same message was clear just a few months ago,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “Residents want to see it as a single-lane bridge and I think we ought to try to honor that.”
“Whatever the area residents want — whether it’s a single lane or a two-lane bridge, my biggest concern is that it’s a SAFE bridge,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “Can we get a pulse of area residents? Can we survey them?… Invite them to a meeting?”
The bridge is currently a public safety hazard.
The bridge is posted for five (5) tons. As a result, large vehicles — including fire engines and school buses — cannot travel over it.
“Currently, fire engines must go down Burlington Avenue to Chestnut Street,” noted Hull. “It wouldn’t be safe to have fire engines go over the bridge.”
“I think the bridge should be reconstructed. I think it should be a two-lane bridge,” said Selectman Kevin Caira. “We should address area residents’ concerns… but I don’t think [a two-lane bridge] is going to increase traffic tremendously. There’s traffic there now all the time. What’s going to increase traffic is the new development of the [condos] that are going in on Main Street [at the Butters Row intersection]. My concern is safety and getting emergency vehicles across that bridge. It’s a bad bridge that needs to get addressed.”
Circle Your Calendar
Hull and Champoux tentatively agreed to place the topic (“Should the town pursue a new Butters Row bridge?”) on the board’s agenda for its upcoming meeting on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 7pm at Town Hall. Champoux hopes the media and social media can help make area residents aware that they are invited and encouraged to make their opinions known.
Twitter Quickly Responds
While live-tweeting the meeting, and shortly thereafter, Wilmington Apple received several responses from interested readers upon hearing that the Selectmen were looking for feedback on the bridge:
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