Deerfield Stillwater Bridge damage not caused by truck travel, state says

  • Stillwater Bridge in Deerfield closed early Monday morning following a failed state inspection because of structural instability. The state says the closure is not the result of oversized vehicles. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Stillwater Bridge in Deerfield. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

For the Bulletin
Tuesday, November 01, 2016

DEERFIELD — The structural damage that caused Stillwater Bridge to be shut down for emergency repairs wasn’t caused by oversized vehicles, state officials say.

The bridge closed early Monday morning following a failed state inspection because of structural instability.

Last year, West Deerfield residents expressed concern that the bridge had been compromised by large trucks, possibly weighing more than the bridge’s 25-ton weight limit. The trucks (which might have weighed 24 to 28 tons empty) drove over the bridge while working on a $36.2 million Interstate 91 project, replacing four bridges spanning the Deerfield River.

At the time, Amanda Richard, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, confirmed that contractor trucks had driven over the bridge, but said they hadn’t compromised its structural stability.

In a Recorder article published Feb. 22, 2015, Richard said the contractor was never allowed to drive over the bridge in the first place, adding that she immediately sent an email “strongly warning them that (the situation) was not acceptable.”

Following the news, a state inspection found that the overweight trucks hadn’t damaged the bridge. The inspection scored the bridge in “satisfactory to fair condition.”

More recently and in light of Stillwater Bridge’s closure, MassDOT Spokesman Patrick Marvin said there hasn’t been any change to the department’s evaluation of the bridge. Specifically, he said the trucks weren’t the reason why it was taken out of service.

“Scour damage to the Stillwater bridge was not the result of vehicular travel or weight restriction violations, but by water flowing in the river, and, over time, washing material from beneath the pier foundation,” Marvin said in a statement Sunday.

Marvin added that the pier’s structural compromise was first discovered during an underwater inspection last December, “six months prior to the most recent inspection.”

Selectboard Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness said in order to get the bridge back up as quickly as possible, the state agreed to allow the town to repair the bridge.

The town will cover half the repair costs — with $50,000 recently passed by the town specifically for bridge repairs — the other half will be contributed by the state.

Repairs will be completed in hopes that the bridge can remain open until 2020, when Marvin said it’s scheduled to be replaced. He said before this closing, the bridge “had already been identified in the Capital Investment Plan for advertisement in October 2020, at an estimated cost of $7.6 million.”

“MassDOT will fund the design and construction of the project,” Marvin said of the bridge’s replacement, “with the Federal Highway Administration covering 80 percent of the construction costs under the Federal Off-Systems Bridge Program.”

“Given that this bridge is located on a municipal road, the town may incur costs if they need to acquire temporary or permanent rights to land that may be needed for construction,” he added.