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Funds Running Out For Massachusetts Bridge Repair Program


A program to repair structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts is about to run out of money.  Legislators point to the renovation of the Willimansett Bridge in western Massachusetts as one of the program’s success stories.

Horns blared and people cheered as the steel truss bridge spanning the Connecticut River between Holyoke and Chicopee reopened to traffic Thursday afternoon following a four- year renovation.

The traffic was music to the ears of Fiore Santaniello, owner of Capri Pizza located just a few blocks down Cabot Street off the Holyoke side of the bridge.

" Its joy," he exclaimed.

 He said business fell 25-30 percent when the bridge closed for repairs in August 2011 and customers from the Willimansett neighborhood of Chicopee could not easily get to his restaurant.

" Willimansett is a big residential working class area," he said. " Forty percent of my business is from Willimansett."

Other businesses near the bridge in Holyoke including a supermarket and an auto parts store reported laying off employees when sales fell after the bridge closed.

At a ceremony to mark the reopening of the bridge, Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos walked across the 800-foot-long bridge and delivered a frozen meat pie from Al’s Market to Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse as a symbol of the importance of intercity commerce.

" There are businesses and residents who have suffered for years. It is a special day," said Kos.

The repair work was originally scheduled to be finished in May 2014 and was budgeted at $18 million. But, work stopped for nine months after the original contractor went bankrupt in September 2013. MassDOT reached a settlement with the insurance company that held the completion bond and the final total for the project was $26.5 million, according to Democratic State Rep. Joseph Wagner of Chicopee.

He said funds for the Willimansett Bridge project came from a $3 billion program the legislature authorized more than five years ago to fix hundreds of deficient bridges across the state.

" All of the funds are committed if not allocated," he said. " What we are seeing now is the residual of projects finishing for which funds were previously allocated."

Wagner said Massachusetts still faces a huge backlog of maintenance and repair projects on its aging roads and bridges.

"The fact is we have more in infrastructure needs than we have in resources  to pay for it. That has long been a problem.  Northeastern states are difficult with harsh winters, salt and sand use, and the infrastructure tends to be older," said Wagner.

The Willimansett Bridge was built in 1891.

Republican State Senator Don Humason of Westfield, whose Senate district includes Holyoke, said he hopes funding can be found to continue the accelerated bridge repair program.

"The cost to the Commonwealth and the taxpayers in the short run is very high, but in the long term by keeping our people and commerce moving it is a better value," said Humason.

The accelerated bridge repair program encourages contractors to use construction techniques such as offsite prefabrication to speed up the work.  The state pays a bonus if the project is finished ahead of schedule.

The contractor on the Willimansett Bridge project, Northern Construction Service, is due a $90,000 bonus for getting the bridge open 30 days ahead of schedule.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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