News & Events

Our Engineers Help Re-Open Division Street Bridge

Aerial view of the truss being removed by cranes.

Prefabricated Truss Bridge Proves to be a Social, Economic, and Environmental Solution for Great Barrington

By Daniel Holmes, PE, LEED AP, and Andrea Lacasse PE
With Contributions By Emily White and Regina Sibilia

The Town of Great Barrington was faced with a substantial challenge: one of its main bridges, the Division Street Bridge, connecting two State Routes, had to be shut down due to deterioration and safety concerns. This created a significant detour for local traffic as well as upsetting an important truck route, causing congestion in the Town’s downtown area. The Town acted quickly to find a solution that would not only be cost-effective and work within an expedited schedule but would benefit the local communities and all those who use this important through-way.

A Focus on Asset Management Uncovers Need for Repairs

The Town of Great Barrington is a municipality with a clear understanding of the importance of asset management and its positive economic impacts on a community. The Town engaged Tighe & Bond to review the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) routine, special member, and fracture critical inspection reports for all Town-owned bridges crossing the Housatonic River. Through assessment of the inventory and familiarity with the bridges and the Town’s priorities, it soon became clear that the bridge on Division Street over the Housatonic River needed rehabilitation and potentially a complete structure replacement.

The original 138-foot single-span, through truss bridge was constructed in 1950 and carried two 10-foot traffic lanes with no sidewalks or breakdown lanes. The bridge has always been a popular area for hiking, biking, walking, and fishing, as well as an important truck route connecting Route 7 to Route 41, keeping truck traffic out of downtown Great Barrington. In addition, Division Street is an important through-way for local traffic and the agricultural community.

Pivoting to an Emergency Response and Alternate Solutions

Existing conditions of Division Street Bridge post-closure. View facing West on Division Street.

With the potential for the bridge to be closed entirely, Tighe & Bond got to work developing cost estimates for varying levels of rehabilitation and/or complete replacement of the bridge to provide the Town with the most cost-effective design solutions for the bridge.

In 2019, the Town voted at the Town Meeting to appropriate funding to replace the bridge. Soon after, Tighe & Bond began data collection and preliminary engineering as well as a bridge replacement alternatives analysis. However, while the replacement bridge was being designed, the due diligence of a MassDOT special member inspection and subsequent load rating report found that three structural elements were rated at zero capacity and the bridge was closed immediately. This created a five-mile detour causing additional congestion for Great Barrington’s downtown area.

With the bridge closed, the Town requested Tighe & Bond refocus on emergency repairs to reopen the bridge as quickly as possible. Tighe & Bond and the Town reached out to MassDOT to switch gears and begin the design of emergency repairs for the three zero-rated elements to reopen the bridge to local traffic as quickly and safely as possible. Through further examination of the inspection and load rating results, MassDOT indicated that the bridge deterioration had advanced to a point where rehabilitation would not be possible, and a complete replacement would be required. MassDOT then informed the Town that they were able to get the bridge on the State Transportation Improvement Plan and the State would replace the bridge, but it would effectively delay the reopening of the new bridge for several years until the necessary funds could be allocated, design completed, and construction executed. The estimated reopening date was sometime in 2027. To avoid a prolonged closure of Division Street Bridge, Tighe & Bond proposed a temporary superstructure replacement to the Town, which would allow the critical crossing to re-open until the permanent bridge replacement was installed.

The Town reallocated funds from the Town-funded bridge replacement into an accelerated reopening of the bridge with a temporary superstructure replacement. Tighe & Bond evaluated the existing abutments for reuse to determine if they were sufficient to continue to support the same load. The team of engineers determined that the existing abutments could support the same load and could be reused for the project. To accommodate the Town’s request of eliminating the previous load restriction while reusing the existing abutments, Tighe & Bond engineers proposed a single-lane modular truss with a cantilevered pedestrian walkway. The single-lane traffic could be controlled with new traffic signals effectively reopening traffic flow along this important corridor while the Town awaited the permanent bridge replacement.

Overcoming Logistical and Environmental Challenges During Design and Construction

Concrete cutting as part of the disassembly of Division Street Bridge.

With consensus on the design approach, time was of the essence, and the design team put the agreed-upon plan into action immediately. While Tighe & Bond mobilized the design team, the Town continued its public outreach effort, keeping the local community and public informed through Select Board meetings, social media posts, and press releases. Tighe & Bond participated in several Town meetings to provide answers to technical questions and support the Town’s effort.

There were a few unique challenges the team had to work around in order to make this project a complete success. One challenge was that the area is identified as estimated habitats of rare wildlife and priority habitat of rare species. The permits would need to consider the potential impacts the superstructure replacement would have on rare and endangered species. The permitting process included a proactive conversation with the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to discuss the potential impacts construction means and methods could have on the three identified endangered species as well as potential actions that could be taken to minimize impacts. With a few endangered species found within this area of the Housatonic River, including Creeper Mussels, Brook Snaketail Dragonflies, and Longnose Suckers, Tighe & Bond adapted the solution of keeping all construction work out of the limits of the Housatonic riverbank, removing potential impacts to the river habitat below. Although this approach created challenges during construction, it reduced the overall project schedule by one year.

Another design challenge included working around energized overhead power lines encroaching onto the job site. Tighe & Bond coordinated with National Grid to relocate the power lines to provide contractors with space to execute their demolition and erection plans while adhering to OSHA guidelines, providing at least 10 feet of clearance.

View of Division Street Bridge after roadway removal.

Once the design phase was complete, the demolition and construction of the replacement bridge required all hands on deck in order to reopen the bridge before the winter of 2022. Every member of the project team was integral to the success of this project. This included the Town of Great Barrington, Tighe & Bond (Engineer of Record), and Rifenburg Contracting Corp. (Contractor) along with their subcontractors, Seifert Associates (Construction Engineer), Atlantic Coast Dismantling (Demolition), Acrow (Truss Manufacturer), and Lapinski Electric (Traffic Signal).

Innovative demolition techniques were put into action to avoid work within the riverbank and the energized power lines encroaching on the job site. Using cranes on either approach, Seifert worked with Atlantic Dismantling to split the truss into two pieces using thermal lancing rods, east and west halves, then lifting the two halves and swinging them to a temporary location outside the riverbank for disassembly before being trucked off-site. This method resulted in the removal of the bridge without impacting the endangered species’ habitats in any way.

Installation of the Prefabricated Truss Bridge Saves Time and Money

With the existing bridge removed, it was time to install the new modular, prefabricated truss bridge. Reuse of the existing abutments not only reduced cost and time, but it also kept to the team’s commitment to protect the local endangered species habitat. The abutments were modified to receive the new truss. The new modular bridge was then constructed on the east side of the project area and “launched” towards the west abutment as it was counterweighted to allow the bridge to extend approximately halfway across the span. Once safely at rest, the crane positioned behind the west abutment connected to the end of the bridge and lifted it while an excavator on the east aided in the remaining launch by pushing the bridge the remainder of the span where it finally rested on both abutments and was secured to the reconstructed bridge seat.

Throughout the project, close coordination and communication between the Town, Contractor, and associated sub-contractors, and Tighe & Bond were critical to the project’s success. With substantial efforts by all parties, this construction project was completed on time and on budget with no change orders issued.

Future Opportunities for Effective Asset Management

The collaborative partnership between the project team resulted in Division Street being open to traffic once again. In addition, the new modular, prefabricated truss bridge will remain a resource to the Town going forward. Not only can the Town use the new truss bridge for Division Street, once Division Street Bridge is permanently replaced by MassDOT, the Town can either sell the truss bridge to help fund future projects or reuse the bridge for any future needs that may arise, saving valuable time and money for the Town.

“Tighe & Bond and the entire team did a great job with this project. They were able to quickly pivot design plans to meet the needs of our community in a way that allowed us to ensure safe traffic flow, save the Town money and not disrupt habitats around the Housatonic River. We look forward to driving over the bridge every day,” said Mark Pruhenski, ICMA-CM, Great Barrington Town Manager.

Tighe & Bond and the project team proposed creative solutions to work within the client’s tight budget, adapted to protect endangered species and the needs of the community, and proposed design features that met state requirements while accommodating future growth and shared use.