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Bridge Work At Hand; Hadley Overpass Ready for Its Makeover

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky and Mayor John Barrett III at Thursday's groundbreaking.
NORTH ADAMS — Deval Patrick wasn't even governor when he got his first tour of North Adams' own crumbling "Green Monster" — the Hadley Overpass.

"He wants to shake hands in Pittsfield and the mayor and I got him climbing around underneath the bridge and telling him we can't have any of this falling down on the Freight Yard Pub," laughed state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, on Thursday. "I'd see him afterward and he'd say, 'I've been thinking about that bridge,' and I'd say, 'Yeah, sure ya have.'"

Fast forward two years, and the $24 million bridge project is being touted as a model by the Patrick administration for moving such construction faster and more efficiently through the bureaucratic pipeline.

From February 2007, when Massachusetts Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky first surveyed Berkshire County's longest span to the ceremonial groundbreaking on Thursday afternoon, was a matter of 19 months.

Paiewonsky said the transportation agencywide initiative is designed to fast-track highway and bridge projects by reviewing and analyzing designs and questioning better ways to make them happen. The state hopes to cut planning time by 40 percent and save millions in inflationary costs. Paiewonsky estimated it cut the development time for the Hadley Overpass in half.

"It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and this is an example of what we can do when we set our minds to it," she said, noting that the bridge is the first project ready for construction through the streamlining process.

Photos by Tammy Daniels
The mayor, with his MassHighway hard hat, and Paiewonsky.
Over the past 18 months, the city and state officials, consultants and designers have worked closely to move the project forward, a turnaround from past disappointments. "We kept the lines of communication flowing," said Paiewonsky.

Her commitment to the bridge earned glowing praise from Mayor John Barrett III. "She's my favorite highway commissioner," he said, noting she was at least the fourth he'd known since the state had been approached about fixing the massive span almost two decades ago. "When we started talking about streamlining the process, that was back in February 2007. That's remarkable in the state of Massachusetts ... it took 10 years from start to end for the Veterans Memorial Bridge."

Paiewonsky returned the compliment, thanking the mayor for his contributions to the bridge's decorative design. She named him an honorary project member and presented him with a MassHighway hard hat. She later described the bridge as the mayor's — "Once we're done with it."

The last significant work on the nearly 68-year-old bridge was back in the late 1970s, when the deck was replaced. Since then, plans to tear it down and replace it were abandoned as too difficult (the city took apartment houses down just south of the bridge years ago to make way for a temporary bridge that went nowhere) and various proposals for repairs never got far.

This despite aggressive lobbying by the mayor and local lawmakers as the bridge continued to deteriorate. A few years ago, the state began wrapping the underside because pieces were falling off, the pedestrian stairs had to be closed off for safety purposes and the green paint is peeling, turning the 940-foot span into rusty eyesore.

Scenes from
the Bridge
"This has been really an embarrassment to the city," said Barrett, describing it as a distraction from the views of the city's famous steeples and the work that has gone into beautifying the downtown. "Image is so important when you talk about economic development, when you talk about bringing people to your city."The groundbreaking event was held under a canopy at the corner of Christopher Columbus Drive. City and state officials and representatives from various companies involved in the project were in attendance, including state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, Highway District 1 Director Peter Niles, James Maxymillian of contractor J.H. Maxymillian Co., and Freight Yard Pub owner Colleen Reinhard, who's eager for the bridge above her parking lot to be fixed.

About a dozen officials pitched in with the traditional golden shovels to toss some dirt piled up for the occasion.

"MassHighway has a very special feeling about bridges," said Paiewonsky. "They're not just steel and concrete structures — they are important community links, often historic community links ... they are not just there to carry traffic."

Some 12,000 vehicles pass over the state-owned bridge daily. Categorized as "functionally obselete," MassHighway plans to restore and upgrade the structure that spans the Hoosic River and B&M Railroad in stages over the next 3 to 4 years. The bridge will not be closed; traffic will use one lane. It is to be funded through the 2008 Transportation Improvement Program for the Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Paiewonsky and Barrett said they were confident that Maxymillian would be able to complete the project ahead of schedule based on past performance. The designer is the internationally known Louis Berger Group. Project manager is Tracy Wu.

Barrett said the bridge's industrial green will be replaced by a "nice maroon" with some black decorative elements and pole lighting. "It's going to be beautiful."

Work will not begin until after the Fall Foliage Festival Parade on Sunday. The annual event travels over the bridge, which connects Route 8 to the downtown.

Barrett said it was possible the governor would make the parade and get a chance to march over the old bridge before construction begins. "We have to give a great deal of credit to the Patrick administration," he said, adding less than 3 percent of the state's total vote is in Berkshire County.

"I can't wait to see it completed," said Paiewonsky. "I look forward to seeing you all at the ribbon cutting."

Updated on Oct. 4 to clarify the Hadley Overpass will not close during reconstruction.
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