July 26, 2017

Wheeler Street Bridge Is Open

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The Wheeler Street Bridge opened to traffic on June 22. It’s been seven years since the bridge collapsed during a torrential rainstorm and flooding in March 2010 and the road has been closed ever since. The Department of Transportation made a final walk-through review of the bridge and then turned it back over to the town, explained Highway Superintendent Mike Costello.
“They said ‘the bridge is all yours,’” Costello said.

The cost to reconstruct the bridge was $1.7 million, with most of the cost paid with federal and state funds. The town paid approximately $250,000, mostly for engineering costs, and it came from the town’s Chapter 90 highway funds. “The agreement was for the town to pay for the engineering and the federal and state agencies took care of the construction,” Costello said.
Part of the reason the project took so long was due to the engineering work and the administrative paperwork and processes necessary for this type of project. “The engineering was the longest duration of the project. During construction they had to redesign it,” Costello said.

The town is happy that the work is now complete. “I feel good. The people on Read Street love it because the traffic will ease over there, but the people who live next to the bridge don’t like it because of the traffic. They were living on a dead end,” Costello said. (The bridge closure forced drivers to detour around to Read Street.)

Town officials had wanted to make changes to the bridge including adding some type of flood relief system, but the federal and state government would not have paid for the new bridge if the design was substantially changed. However, Costello says it is much improved. “It’s a 100 percent better,” Costello said.

The bridge was rebuilt in 1965 (it was originally a simple wooden span). According to anecdotal reports, a cement truck crashed on it. The cement company and the town reconstructed the bridge, changing it to a cement span with an oval metal culvert beneath. But according to town officials, there is no record of any engineering plans or studies being conducted at that time.  Now the bridge has a slightly larger cement culvert and solid endwalls that should prevent the situation in 2010 from happening again. “That was a 100-year storm. If there’s another 100-year storm, there’s a possibility of some flooding again, but not the same kind of devastation,” Costello.

Selectmen are planning to have an official ribbon-cutting to celebrate the opening of the Wheeler Bridge sometime soon, but the date has not yet been set.

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