Sunday, December 2, 2007

Westfield's Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project Unfolds

Stand in the same spot long enough and life is bound to change around you. Keep moving forward with determination and one will make progress. Or at least hope to.

The Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project in Westfield is indeed making progress despite the looming threat of the frozen season just around the corner, like an approaching cold wind that triumphantly announces its arrival with a howl before releasing its frigid arctic blast to gnaw at vulnerable ears and tips of noses, frozen and red. Jeepers, it was frosty out yesterday morning! The wind was blowing the dusting of snow that fell overnight and a bit into the morning into tiny frozen-needle tornadoes of torture.

You may have guessed by now that I am prone to embellishment. Maybe even a hint of melodrama.

As I was saying...

An old-timer I used to work with once said to me "They told me, 'Cheer up, things could be worse.' Sure enough, I cheered up and things got worse." That seems to sum up Westfield's worsening traffic woes. The light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a new crossing of the Westfield River is a long way off and very dim indeed looking at it from this side of a 3+ year distance. In the meantime, Westfield's Elm Street/North Elm Street unique traffic bottleneck has only gotten worse, with long lines and waits that would try the patience of a saint. The same old-timer used to claim his nationality was, "Half Russian, half taking my time." Westfield drivers idling in line waiting to traverse the Great River Bridge know that feeling.

Folks I've spoken with about the new bridge under construction linking the North and South sides seem to be evenly divided on the usefulness of such a venture. I come down on the side of the "for it" crowd, for many reasons. One is a simple bare scary fact: Out of the 100 most well-traveled bridges in the commonwealth, the Great River Bridge in Westfield is tied for 11th place with a bridge crossing the Merrimack river out east. 11th most structurally-deficient bridge in the state, that is. Ranking a 9.5 out of a possible score of 100 is enough to convince me that another bridge is needed, followed by a refurb on the existing 1939-built structure, as planned. But that's not all. I have somewhat of a vested interest in the project, just as any employee of a local business that reaps the benefits of the influx of construction funds from Boston does. It's no Big Dig, with its free-for-all grab for cash, but as a truck suspension mechanic, I appreciate the fact that heavy equipment and trucks are out there moving around, because they don't break if they're not working. And I don't work if they aren't breaking. A new bridge is good for the local economy.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I think the new bridge will increase the efficiency of traffic flow across the two sides of the city, but only when the whole 10 & 202 corridor improvement project is complete, which could be upwards of a 10 year total wait to see if my prophecy is correct (Somewhere out there, someone is marking their calendar). According to the project description: "Under the preferred alternative there will be a coordinated traffic signal system interconnected with adjacent signals along the Elm Street corridor. Additionally there will be geometric improvements to the project area intersections and adjacent streets to better accommodate peak hour traffic demands." Let's keep our fingers crossed.

As part of the over-all project, the Pochassic Street Bridge over the railroad tracks is slated to be widened to three lanes, with a dedicated right turn lane from Pochassic onto North Elm, which will be three lanes of traffic flowing one-way in a southerly direction toward downtown. The intersection of Notre Dame and North Elm streets, at the bottom of Clay Hill, will also see some needed changes, with a third lane to be added in each direction for turns onto Notre Dame, freeing up the other two lanes for 10 & 202 through-traffic. On the South-side, all on-street parking will be discontinued on Elm Street from the Great River Bridge to Franklin Street (Rte. 20), allowing for two unobstructed lanes each of north and south-bound traffic. The new bridge will draw motorists north along the Elm Street Spur in front of Holy Trinity church, emptying out onto the North-side's Union Avenue in three lanes with ample space for dedicated turning lanes and through-traffic both. Green space for folks to enjoy will take up the area between the twin bridges, which will be roughly about 150 feet apart.

Looks good on paper anyway.

Another major plus will be the reconstruction of the CSX railroad viaduct parallel to Railroad Avenue and crossing North Elm Street, raising it from its currently varied height of 11'5" at the west end to 13'6" at its east, to a respectable 14'5". This will eliminate the problem of tractor-trailers getting stuffed under the bridge, which was kind of interesting when I was a kid (a long time ago), but is merely annoying now. Someday the stories will turn legends. Ah, progress.

Now if we can eliminate all of the ugly billboards littering North Elm Street on and by the viaduct...That would be a step ahead. Aesthetically speaking, of course.

Here are some photographs looking north-east, taken from the south-east corner of the Great River Bridge. The structure the crane is working from is a temporary work platform built to accommodate construction of the new bridge. In the last few photos, the forms are being built along the north bank and in the center of the river for the pouring of the concrete that will make up two of the three buttresses the new bridge will rest on.

August 8, 2007 - 9:43 a.m.

October 6, 2007 - 8:35 a.m.

October 16, 2007 - 2:21 p.m.

October 23, 2007 - 2:17 p.m.

October 30, 2007 - 2:16 p.m

November 13, 2007 - 4:27 p.m. (Photo by Romola Alamed)

November 17, 2007 - 10:29 a.m.

November 22, 2007 - 10:11 a.m.

December 1, 2007 - 9:58 a.m.

For more from EWM on the city of Westfield's Great River Bridge Project go here.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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