After being shut down for a year and a half, repairs are finally coming to the Gardner Bridge.
Town officials said none of the cost to repair the bridge will be paid by the Town of Bourne, despite a signed contract stating the town could be partially responsible financially.
Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi told the board of selectmen on Tuesday, September 1, that he received a contract from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation last month. The contract, Mr. Schiavi said, was signed and returned, and MassDOT issued a notice to proceed with the project.
“I did talk to the engineering firm yesterday [Monday, August 31],” he said, “and they’re in the process of sending me a proposal to assist with the necessary engineering work.”
In January, state Representative David T. Vieira (R-East Falmouth) informed town officials that $200,000 in state funding had been appropriated for emergency repairs to the bridge. However, the state had asked that the Town of Bourne agree to pay any repair costs beyond the $200,000 earmarked.
For several months, Mr. Schiavi said he was reluctant to enter into any agreement that called for the town to pay any of the repair costs. The contract he signed, however, does include a section stating “MassDOT will transfer to the Town of Bourne for the actual costs incurred to complete these improvements up to, but not exceeding $200,000. Any costs above this amount shall be borne by the Town of Bourne.”
Asked about the excess compensation clause, Mr. Schiavi said the town will not be on the hook for any of the repair costs.
“Essentially the town can’t sign a contract with a value of more than what we have, which is 200K,” he said. “If the prices come in higher, we wouldn’t issue a contract.”
MassDOT informed the town that, as of August 12, work can begin anytime. In addition, the town has until June 30, 2021, to complete the project or lose the $200,000 in state funding, MassDOT said.
Responsibility for paying the cost to repair the bridge has dogged the project primarily because of confusion over who owns the bridge; is it the town, MassDOT, or the Mass Coastal Railroad?
Selectman James L. Potter asked if the question of ownership has been resolved.
Mr. Potter noted that the funds to repair the bridge were acquired through special, one-time legislation. Given that it is a wooden bridge, the likelihood is that a similar situation will occur again, with questions raised again as to who is responsible for maintenance and repairs, he said.
“I’m wondering if anyone at the state level, or along the way, has spoken about how that’s going to be addressed in the future,” he said.
Mr. Schiavi said he has addressed the issue with residents of Briarwood. He said he advised the residents of Briarwood to consult with Mass Coastal Railroad, as well as the state, “to establish once and for all, who actually owns the bridge and is responsible for future maintenance.” He added that, from all the deed research that has been done, it is clear to him the bridge does not belong to the Town of Bourne.
“One thing fortunately for the Town of Bourne, seems to be, no one is pointing the finger at us,” he said.
The Town of Bourne was made aware in February 2019 that the bridge was unsafe. The notification followed an inspection that was done on December 29, 2018, by the Massachusetts Coastal Railroad, which uses the tracks that run beneath the bridge.
MassDOT conducted its own inspection on January 26, 2019, and recommended the bridge be closed to vehicular traffic immediately. Town officials ordered the bridge closed to all vehicular traffic in early March 2019.
Pedestrians and bicyclists have been able to use the bridge. Cars driven by residents and emergency vehicles have had to use an access point on private property that crosses the tracks to reach the Briarwood neighborhood.