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TALE OF TWO: Cities and Bridges

Date: 8/4/2010

Aug. 4, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

It is a tale of two cities -- conceivably two bridges.

The announcement the Willamansett Bridge between Holyoke and Chicopee will be closed between two and three years for reconstruction has been met with varying reactions.

Businesses in Holyoke near the bridge have told Mayor Elaine Pluta they fear it will have a profound impact on them. Mayor Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee, though, said that no business in his city has complained to him about loss of customers.

While Pluta sees the bridge as still needed -- she told Reminder Publications that 15,000 vehicles and 300 pedestrians cross the span each day -- Bissonnette believes the $33 million the state will use to repair the bridge could be used to fund other projects, such as the new senior centers both cities plan to build.

Bissonnette said he would rather see the bridge converted into a pedestrian walkway and bike path.

"It not longer reflects the needs when it was built," he said.

"We could live without this bridge, but that decision was not made locally," he added.

State officials conducted a meeting July 26 in Holyoke to discuss the plans for the bridge. A previous meeting conducted in October 2009 had not been well attended and Pluta insisted another public meeting to explain the project be scheduled.

Its reconstruction should begin next April and will last two to three years.

Pluta said the state has said the three-year period would be a "worst case scenario." The state plans on using double shifts to speed up the process.

She noted state law now requires the construction work and the bridge being closed to traffic once the contractor has all of the material and equipment needed for the job in place.

What will add months to the project is the decision to keep a pedestrian lane open.

Pluta plans to have her administration develop a marketing plan to help those retail businesses affected by the closing.

Bissonnette said his only real concern was to make sure the bridge closing does not make an impact on ambulances reaching Holyoke Hospital from Chicopee.

Pluta explained the Interstate 391 bridge would serve as the detour while construction is ongoing.

Bissonnette said that if the Willamansett Bridge project takes three years to complete there would probably be an overlap between that project and the reconstruction of the Davitt Bridge in downtown Chicopee.

The mayor and state officials will be meeting next month to review the plans for the Davitt Bridge, which he said is at the 75 percent completion level.