Bachelor Brook bridge work

Last change 10 December 2012

This site is about the Bachelor Brook Bridge replacement project. This bridge is on Route 47 in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Started in 2002, the project finally came together in 2008.

The old bridge was dated 1931. It lasted 77 years without failure, though time caused cumulative damage. I can’t say if this was inevitable or if better maintenance could have kept it up longer. The most obvious damage was the wear, by water and ice, of the bottom of the piers of the three-span bridge. The fix was clear: replace the bridge. To avoid problems with piers, eliminate them from the new structure.

I’m going to air one pet peeve here. Infrastructure maintenance. It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, and it’s not cheap. Even so, it’s cheaper than the loss of lives when it’s not done, and it’s cheaper than wholesale replacement of poorly maintained structures.

I realize that new structures (tunnels, bridges, whatever) are “sexy” projects, for lack of a better term. They clearly make life easier, while maintenance of existing structures seems to make life tougher with no apparent gain, at least in the short term while the project is active, unless you’re working on it. No one likes detours or lane restrictions. Tell it to the people in Minneapolis. It took an immense amount of cash to replace that bridge after it failed, to say nothing of the lives lost. I admit that part of the proximate cause of failure was active maintenance, but I say that that was caused by poor on-going maintenance efforts over the four decades that bridge served. Adding to the load on the bridge without reinforcing the structure was clearly the Wrong Thing to do. Hopefully we’ll learn from this, or the dead died for nothing at all.

Still, situations with structures like the Longfellow Bridge over the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts, are the results of a very long failure to properly maintain these key structures. I hope we will stop skimping on such tasks, but I’m not holding my breath.

Rant over.

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25 May 2008

The 1931 bridge from the side. The bottom of several of the piers have been eaten away by time. This bridge was in poor shape.
Here’s the date and railing, which has all seen better days. On the other hand, this bridge never collapsed.
Date with the Seal of Massachusetts.
A pier top
Mile marker on the up-stream side of the bridge
The old bridge in its setting. Upstream is on the right.

15 July 2008

The project has begun. Jersey barriers across the road can be seen in the distance.
This is the upstream side of the bridge. Note how the bottom of the piers are eaten away.
At this point, the bridge is still all there. Bicyclists remain, though there are Jersey barriers preventing cars from approaching.
This looks ominous. "I’m gonna chew that bridge up!"

24 July 2008

2008 07  25 005
Contributed image. Here’s what REALLY chewed the bridge up, and who wielded it. The bridge never had a chance.

26 July 2008

They’re chewing the old bridge up. At this point, the guardrails are gone.
Here you can see that the old deck isn’t all there either. It looks like a large circular saw has been here, and it has!
We can see that the bridge no longer crosses the whole Brook, and they’ve had to re-route some plumbing.

11 August 2008

  2008 08 26 038
Contributed photo.

15 August 2008

Retaining wall 006
Contributed image. Laying foundation for the new retaining wall

21 August 2008

I think the weight limit is a bit optimistic now. The old bridge is entirely gone.
What’s more, they’ve started work on the foundation for the new bridge abutments.
Gravel is good. What are those bits sticking out of it? Looks like we might still have the stumps of the old piers.

22 September 2008

Contributed image.

05 October 2008

The new abutments are rising. Forms have been built.
Here’s a good view of what’s going on. The abutments are going up. The old pier stumps appear to be entirely gone now. Six weeks to go!

09 November 2008

A month has passed, and the new bridge is now continuous. There’s no pavement yet, but it’s clearly coming very soon. There are no guardrails either.
I thought John Deere painted everything green. Guess not.
The basic deck exists, though the abutments aren’t quite all there yet.
There’s still some concrete to be poured. However, the plumbing appears to have been installed on the new bridge because it’s no longer on its temporary span.