By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Increasing vehicle congestion, outdated traffic patterns and structural deficiencies of the Memorial Avenue Bridge have prompted city officials in Agawam and West Springfield to take notice of what Mass Highway has deemed a "structurally deficient" structure.
The bridge, which links Agawam and West Springfield at the intersection of Routes 75, 159 and 147 (Suffield, Springfield and Main streets and Memorial Avenue) in Agawam has experienced structural deterioration and become too small to accommodate increasing traffic flow since its construction in 1946, according to city officials.
"The bridge as it exists now is not very safe," Mayor Susan Dawson said. "The projection is that if this is not done before too long the bridge will become unsafe."
Dawson said she will be working with West Springfield city officials to petition the state for design and construction funding totaling approximately $11.4 million in the near future, citing the safety of all residents traveling over the bridge as a significant priority.
According to Gary Roux, principal planner at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), bridge improvement projects are on the rise, while state and federal funding decreases.
"I can't stress enough that there are so many needs right now and not enough funding," he said, adding that $15 million per year is allocated for such needs.
Roux explained that currently, the PVPC is compiling the requests for the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for review by MassHighway.
Adam Hurtubise, spokesperson for the executive office of transportation, explained that the Memorial Avenue Bridge's "structurally deficient" designation means that the bridge "is structurally safe but nearing the end of its useful life."
Necessary improvements to the bridge and traffic patterns would cost approximately $11.4 million, according to Purcell Associates of Glastonbury, Conn. the firm hired last year by the cities of Agawam and West Springfield to conduct the $12,000 traffic and bridge condition study.
Purcell Associates projected that the total cost would include $7.4 million for bridge rehabilitation, including the superstructure replacement, $2.8 million for bridge widening and $1.2 million for roadway widening, resurfacing and signalization.
According to an inspection conducted by MassHighway on July 18, 2007, the deck is currently in poor overall condition and the substructure and superstructures in fair condition. The Purcell Report states that the bridge's sidewalks and lighting are also in poor condition. Hurtubise explained that each bridge in the Commonwealth is inspected for structural integrity biannually and those deemed "structurally deficient" are inspected annually.
Steven Ulman, senior traffic engineer at Purcell Associates, explained that bridge rehabilitation and widening would allow for an additional travel lane for traffic flowing from West Springfield into Agawam. He said the intersection analysis conducted on Oct. 4, 2007 showed afternon peak traffic periods demonstrated E or F Levels of Service (LOS) level A designates the best and F designates failing in accordance with the 2000 Highway Capacity Manual.
Ulman explained that an additional left hand turn lane with a green arrow would eliminate traffic congestion. Currently drivers must wait behind those vehicles wishing to turn left onto Main Street causing a multi-car backup.
"Essentially if you're at a signal and you don't get through on the first, but [you get through the intersection on the] second green, you're approaching the E and F boundary," Ulman explained.
He said the overall widening for the additional travel lane will require some land acquisition but the locations of those properties are yet to be determined.
Matt Card, project engineer at Purcell Associates, said that given the bridge's age and overall structural deterioration, once the project reaches the design phase a cost-benefit ratio must be conducted in order to determine whether or not it would be more cost effective to build an entirely new structure.
He explained that while the "existing substructure is in pretty good shape overall," a widening would still need to occur, a replacement of the sidewalks and railings and the entire bridge would have to be stripped of its lead paint and repainted.
"You have to de-lead the bridge and it's like opening up a can of worms," Card said of the increased time, effort and man power required for such an effort.