By Erin O'Connor
WESTFIELD - On April 9, local political officials, Mayor Richard K. Sullivan and State Senator Michael Knapik announced that the next phase of the Great River Bridge Project will be commencing as soon as May.
According to Sullivan and Knapik, the Massachusetts Highway Department signed the final contracts with J.F. White Contracting Company on March 28, and the Framingham contractor now has 14 days to execute the contract, which includes bonds and certificates of insurance. Sullivan said representatives from the company have already been in the city.
Knapik said he did not feel that major traffic concerns would occur as a result of the project.
"You will see some demolition," he said. "There will be three to four parcels taken down- the Blessed Sacrament Church and a couple parcels located on the Northern side."
Sullivan said these parcels include the John Carlo Woodworking Building and a former exterminating company.
The Great River Bridge Project is said to cost at least $60 million upon its completion and will be the most expensive public works project ever completed in the Pioneer Valley.
"Any obstruction will be minimal down the road," Knapik said. "It will certainly change the gateway of Westfield forever."
Officials said the project would be completed within four to five years.
"I think people that lived through the construction of the new Route 20 Bridge understand that we try to mitigate it as best as possible," Sullivan said. "There absolutely will be times where there will be delays, but we work very hard with the police department and are sensitive to the motoring public and sensitive to businesses in the area."
The project includes the demolition of the before mentioned three parcels, the construction of a new three-lane bridge that will carry north-bound traffic, the modification of the existing bridge (circa 1939) that will carry three-lane traffic heading south bound, the CSX railroad will be raised to provide clearance for 14 ft. for tractor trailer trucks and the creation of a recreational park area within the bridges and traffic area.
"The project also lays the groundwork for future improvements including the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail; a river walk along the south bank; and a gaslight initiative designed to complement the downtown hotel project and encompass the area within Elm, Court, Washington and Franklin streets," Sullivan said.
According to Knapik the project will improve the traffic flow through the city's worst bottleneck.
"The project promises to dramatically transform the gateway to downtown with riverfront parks designed to accentuate the Westfield River," Knapik said.
Sullivan said after demolition, the construction of the new bridge will be the first area that will be initiated, followed by the heightening of the railroad track, although no official schedule has been issued as of yet.
"I think it is going to do two things," Sullivan said. "It certainly is going to improve the traffic flows and eliminate the delays. The more exciting part is the increased parks connections to the walkway, bike path, recreational opportunities that will be there. Instead of being an obstacle it will accentuate the natural resources. It will be a gateway and become a destination point," he added.
A groundbreaking ceremony with Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray will be in May.