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MassDOT Sets 'Aggressive' Schedule to Open Route 2

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey said the state will spend $34.5 million and reopen Route 2 by Dec. 15. State and local officials toured some of the damaged area along the closed 6-mile section.

FLORIDA, Mass. — State highway officials on Friday committed to an aggressive reconstruction schedule to get Route 2 open by mid-December.

The historic and economically vital Mohawk Trail has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene undermined roads and caused devastating landslides along the scenic route, cutting off Northern Berkshire from the annual caravans of leaf-peepers.

"We begin work tomorrow with the commitment we will open up Route 2 by Dec. 15," said Department of Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, standing in front of a caved section of the highway on Friday afternoon. "Route 2 is obviously an important lifeline for the citizens of Western Massachusetts to get to central and eastern Massachusetts. We know that, the governor knows that, and we're committed to get that done and get it done safely."

Some $34.5 million will be spent in three contracts to reconstruct and stabilize more than six miles of twisting road. Some patches have been done and the mudslides that buried a section of the highway by the Cold River has been cleared.

Still, the water left scars extending hundreds of feet up the south side of the narrow valley east of Dead Man's Curves. Trees, brush, earth — everything washed down the mountainside onto the road and into the Cold River, knocking the containment walls askew.

"I've spent more than 30 years as an engineer and I have seen firsthand what nature can do to our roads and bridges," said Highway Administrator Frank DePaola. "The damage from Irene is severe but not insurmountable.

"We are on an aggressive schedule but we're confident we can meet that timeline," said DePaola. Davey pledged they'd be back for a ribbon-cutting to open the highway in December.

Pushing to get the critical highway open, the state used an expedited bidding process, in which designs were completed, bids solicited and contracts signed within three weeks. Davey said another contract to fix state roads in Savoy and Charlemont will be awarded next week.

Crews that cleared the road tried to explain the amount of material that had to be removed.
Northern Construction of Palmer was awarded the $11.5 million contract to reconstruct slopes and roads in North Adams and Florida; a $7.5 million contract for roads in Savoy and Charlemont will be put out to bid next week with the expectation of beginning Oct. 10. DePaola said Route 2 can be opened to traffic before the containments along the Cold River are fixed; that $15.5 million conract will be awarded through the regular bidding process in the spring.

Contractors and engineers will look to reinforcing the man-made slopes and retaining walls to better withstand future storms.

The importance of the highway was reiterated by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, former North Adams city councilor, and North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, who pointed to "the social, the recreational, commercial, economic relevance and importance of Route 2 to the city of North Adams and our greater region.

"It is the physical link that connects us with Greenfield and, of course, Boston and most important, especially this time of year, it is the road that brings tourists into our region."

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, called it "a vital lifeline between the Berkshire and Franklin County," one that has sundered both and he and Cariddi's districts.

Some 2,400 vehicles use the road daily; the detour from Shelburne Falls over Routes 112 and 116 adds 25 miles and at least 45 minutes to the commute.

Davey said the disaster declarations by Gov. Deval Patrick and President Obama put the state in line for aid from the Federal Highway Administration.

Another $10 million is being spent in on repairs in other parts of the state; another $1.5 million has been spent in getting Route 8 open in Clarksburg. 

But in Florida, and the smaller towns, Irene's pricetag may be overwhelming. With budgets set in June, many towns have entered into deficit spending to get town roads at least patched by winter. Town Administrator Christine Dobbert said the bill for Florida is expected to be $3 million — a third more than the town's annual budget.

In Clarksburg, the tally's at nearly $1 million, North Adams is looking at $5 million to $6 million.

State reimbursements are expected to be 75 percent, possibly more in certain cases with federal funds. Cariddi is working with other Western Massachusetts legislators and Speaker Robert DeLeo's office to push for a supplemental spending bill to pick up the full tab for towns in Western Mass. that felt the full brunt of Irene.

Meanwhile, local officials are thrilled state officials comprehend the effects of the disaster on the Berkshires and thanked both state officials and highway crews for their efforts during and the days following the storm.

"I'm very, very happy to hear this commitment of Dec. 15," said Alcombright. "It's incredible when you try to absorb the damage."

District 1 Highway Director Peter Niles assured him that would be the case. "We have a ribbon all ready to go," he said.

Tags: highway,   MassDOT,   Mohawk Trail,   

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