Sunday, June 15, 2008

Westfield's Bridge Project: The Second Spring

Westfield's Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project continues apace, promising long-term gridlock relief at the cost of short-term enhanced gridlock aggravation. But isn't that the way all major traffic projects go? In the winter, folks grumble when construction projects stall. In the summer, they wonder who the joker was that scheduled major road work during vacationers' heaviest travel time. It's human nature. Even the most mild-mannered New Englander will get a bit ticked off when caught interminably in the leg trap of a small-city traffic jam. When it happens daily - Yikes! - Odds are good that you might even hear some colorful language tripping out of sweet, old Aunt Betsy's mouth.

I took a walk around the bridge area this gray morning and snapped a few photographs...

Look Mom: No sidewalk!

The temporary platform just downriver of the new bridge's footprint is an important hub of the construction site. Workers, supplies, and equipment rely on the integrity of this base of operations as they prepare steel forms sunk into the riverbed for the poured concrete buttresses that will support the sister span of the existing Great River Bridge. To see a couple of EWM photo series of the platform's growth, click here or here.

Scaffolding can be seen slung beneath the Great River Bridge, which spans the Westfield River. The bridge began serving the city in 1939 and the span is currently utilized by well over 30,000 vehicles a day. The truss-style bridge is slated for reconstruction upon completion of its downriver twin-sister structure. Part of the steel forms for the new bridge's pylons are visible in the foreground. The ladder climbing out of the enclosure gives one an idea of scale.

Let's hope that someday we'll be able to take a smooth traffic flow in and out of town for granite. Yeah. That was bad.

Pedestrians also pay the inconvenient price of progress.

Don't you just hate that particular sunken manhole? Westfield drivers know what I mean. It's like a suspension nightmare. On Elm Street. Try avoiding it. The darn thing moves. I swear.

Women's Temperance Park, on the north riverbank to the west of the bridge, has been temporarily commandeered for the construction cause. Finishing touches on the project will include several improvements to the park, with access to the anticipated Columbia Greenway Rail Trail one of the planned enhancements. In the late 19th century, a small portion of this 1/2 acre parcel of land between the river and the railroad tracks was occupied by George Beal's blacksmith shop and a neighboring cobbler shop whose proprietor was Rocco DePopolo. For you kids out there a cobbler is a person who repairs shoes. Yes, honest, folks used to get their damaged shoes fixed to make them last. A horse-shoer and a people-shoer in one convenient location: That's what I call one-step shopping.

The $55-65 million Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project entails raising the CSX railroad viaduct to an overall height of 14'5". Long a snare for distracted truckers, the clearance where North Elm Street passes under the tracks is now 11'5". Poor drainage issues beneath the viaduct, a recurring nuisance come heavy rain, will also be addressed.

The Great River Bridge is getting some much-needed attention. Walking across it while traffic is passing gives one the sensation of being atop a vibrating floor in a carnival fun house.

Going underground...

Historic splendor looms. Windows silent witnesses to days passed.

If not for the caution-orange barrels, this Union Avenue scene seen in black & white might be mistaken for Westfield, 1899, the year the Hotel Bismarck, the magnificent building on the left, was opened for business.

The north end of Union Avenue.

An empty North Elm Street under cloudy skies.

Hmm. Now there's a simple, low-tech way to tackle a sagging bridge problem...Just hope no train-hopping beavers decide to disembark.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Elizabeth said...

Good overview (and pix) of the project! It is rather a pain to get through there, but eventually it will be worth it (right?).

I went down there a few weeks ago, but I wasn't able to get any good photos. When were you there? I've never seen that area so devoid of traffic!

Mark T. Alamed said...

Thanks, Elizabeth!

I was there around 7 am yesterday morning. Early weekend mornings are a great time to wander around down there. Usually it's pretty desolate.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

The new bridge thats gettin built is so so ugly

Anonymous said...

Mark, thanks for this information. I've been watching Westfield's new/old bridge progress, and it's great you have these photos so that we can remember how it used to look.