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.
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I would be so proud of this when other local states have pretty much completed their temp work for winter with non union workers Mass hacks at there finest oh by the way Boston doent know you exsist or this would have started a while ago
I travel through Vermont on Route 9 to Brattleboro over the last few weeks and the damage from Irene is almost completed! Vermont has done this without all the photo ops and fan fare that Massachusetts has made of their roar repairs. Does anyone know why Massachusetts is so slow to respond? Vermont completes their repairs in just over a month......we can't even get an answer in the time it takes our neighboring state to TOTALLY rebuild 6 miles of a major road!
Editor: Well, if you lived here you would see they have been working on the roads - the road I drive on to get home was washed away but back in service in two weeks. Route 2 is the most extensive to repair and the most complicated to do, plus had to have more than 10 feet of mud and debris removed. PS: Vermont has not completed repairs; there's lots of work in progress.
I heard Vermont had a lot of help from neighboring states like Maine. I heard Maine sent a huge crew and tons of heavy equipment to help Vermont...as mentioned the Mohawk Trail posses some very complicated reconstruction....Iím thankful they are taking an aggressive commitment to completing this by December. We have been hearing the Trail would be closed for 1 yearÖI think this is wonderful news for are area.
That is not totally true. Route 9 between Wilmington and Battleboro is all but completely done. The repairs are permanent with the exception of about 200 feet of guard rail. I traveled that section of road just yesterday! I would normally travel route 2, were I would buy my gas and snacks for my ride! Now Vermont has my money.
could you give us a list of the Massachusetts roads? I'm guessing that there are significantly fewer road involved or as important as route 2 is! Vermont understands the importance of route 9 and acted quickly. They are done and our politicians stand on a washed out bridge while Vermont gets in done.
Wow, that is great news. I just can't understand why the comments that follow this story are so negative, even after a news item that is setting the timeline for a safe, yet speedy, repair. Oh wait, this is iBerkshires, where the golden rule is usually "If you don't have anything nice to say, you can always post anonymously on iBerkshires!"
Dear Editor and Looking Forward,
Not true I am a williamstown native! I have lived here 43 years of my life, probably long then you? I just seem confused here.....word was that route 2 was going to take years to repair........now we can have the work completed in 10 weeks.......????? You tell me how this can be and I will sleep better knowing someone is not playing us as citizens and tax payers. Its that simple!
Editor: I'm not an engineer and I don't work for MassDOT. So I can't answer your question. I can guess that it took four weeks to clear, inspect, do immediate patches, draw up design plans and bid work. Having seen only part of the damage, I'm amazed it will open (not completed) in December. No one said it would take years; some people estimated it might take years.
I sorry getting the editors feathers ruffled but this is an example of NH vs. Mass for example in construction they completed 3 bridges and paved 5 miles of road in one summer season they have working on a 2 lane bridge over the border for 7 years. Oh by the way. I called the main Mass DOT office in Boston not Berkshires multiple times since the floods and they could not give me a status report of roads in Berkshires. This is sad. I am 100% Berkshire but Mass. will not recognize that end of the state. This is not me but when I mentioned this to the Main DOT office they had heard the same statement from a Lenox DOT meeting this summer. If you donít believe me try calling the main DOT office not the local office this is sad Also not one Boston station has ever mentioned what happen in the Berkshires except NECN so Mass. people donít know what happened back there. All they heard about was the Patriots power was on before the town. While there was total devastation in Berkshires. Just my two cents worth
The Mohawk Trail repairs are not temporary, the road has been re-engineered, bid out and approved. This section of road is not a simple dump and go project. Rt-9 from Brat to Wilmington has been under construction since 1975 and still has those famed Vermont BUMP! I'v lived in both state and will take Mass roads anytime.