Anxiety rises as state orders shutdown of Division Street bridge in Great Barrington

By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle GREAT BARRINGTON — For safety reasons, the town will close the Division Street bridge to traffic as early as Sept.

6 for major repairs or a replacement. The state Department of Transportation on Friday recommended that the bridge be closed to vehicles but remain open to pedestrians or bicyclists.

School bus companies and emergency services have been notified, and detour signs will be in place. It is unclear how long the town-owned bridge that links Route 41 (North Plain Road) with Route 183 will be closed. “The timing of this closure is unfortunate,” Sean VanDeusen, superintendent of the Department of Public Works, said in a statement.

He said the town already was working with an engineer on how to fix or replace the bridge. “It was our hope that the bridge was sound enough to remain open to traffic while we explored our options, but the safety of our residents and visitors is our top priority.” Voters already had approved £4 million at the annual town meeting in May to cover costs for the 43-foot span over the Housatonic River. But it still is unclear how much the work will cost.

The bridge, built in 1950, is one of more than 400 bridges across the state that are rated structurally deficient. State- and town-owned bridges are inspected by the state every two years, and more frequently for deteriorating bridges. According to agency data, the bridge previously was inspected in July 2017.

News of the pending shutdown made the owner of Taft Farms stop unloading pumpkins from a truck.

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“Does that mean I have to drive to Great Barrington to go around?” asked Dan Tawczynski, who farms 10 acres of pumpkins, squash and decorative gourds on the other side of the river. This is the start of his busiest season of the year, where he works a total of 30 acres, and he said he repeatedly has asked town officials to let him know in advance when they were expecting to close the bridge for work so he could grow pumpkins on the store side of it. Tawczynski, who has owned the store for 65 years, wasn’t expecting a sudden state-ordered shutdown.

“It’s going to make life impossible,” he said. “We’re gonna have to run like hell to pick [pumpkins], and not all are mature yet.” He’s also short-handed, he added. Tawczynski’s son, Paul Tawczynski, who is the farm store’s chef, attributed the span’s deterioration to wear and tear from truck traffic.

“That bridge was never designed for tractor-trailers,” he said, watching a truck go by. “They’re one out of every 10 cars, all day long.” He said the trucks have to come through here from several directions to avoid the Route 41 railroad overpass in Great Barrington. That this happens though the bridge’s weight limits for trucks have been lowered is something residents have been clamoring about for years.

Paul Tawczynski said that truck traffic also has rattled his father’s home next to the bridge so much that its cracked the plaster and drywall. “We knew it was a matter of time,” he said. Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.

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