GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

April 26, 2013

Editorial: City should buy time with low-cost fix, temporary bridge

The idea of replacing the wooden Good Harbor Beach footbridge with what would amount to a glorified aluminum plank — even at a third of the cost — may send shivers through many Gloucester residents, and with good reason.

The bridge, which survived countless stormy hits from the weather before being rocked and socked by the Blizzard of 2013 and two successors, is seen by some Gloucester folks and artists as the city’s answer to Rockport’s beloved Motif No. 1. And its classic style is an enormous part of its charm.

But if Mayor Carolyn Kirk replaces the bridge for this summer only with a temporary, $20,000 aluminum span, that indeed makes more sense than shelling out $65,000 for a wooden span that would also likely serve only as a temporary repair. And if the city were to take that course, it should also set aside the other $45,000 to carry out a full-scale design for a permanent bridge that could match the style of the old bridge, yet be fortified with a new design and protections that might better stand up to storms for decades to come.

The flap over “Wood or Aluminum?” — the headline on Thursday’s Times story, and Gloucester’s very own version of the “paper or plastic” debate this week — grew out of the mayor’s posing those very choices to readers of Joey Ciaramitaro’s GoodMorningGloucester blog, which also appears on the Times’ website at gloucestertimes.com. In it, the mayor sought input regarding the aluminum option, which could be installed at a cost of some $20,000 compared to a wood bridge repair cost of $65,000.

Left unsaid, however, were that both plans were aimed at temporary fixes, and the city’s Conservation Commission is laying down the law against any new temporary repairs.

Assuming the plan would be temporary, an aluminum span could be connected to the main bridge, but without any pilings, and could then be lifted out and preserved in the face of a coming storm. In that sense, an aluminum center span indeed makes more sense than a “new” wooden bridge that would also serve in a temporary role for just a few months.

That course, as Public Works Director Mike Hale noted, would at least buy the city some time for coming up with a more fitting permanent replacement. And time is what the city is rapidly running out of for the coming season. That makes the option of a temporary aluminum bridge an even better choice.

The mayor would do well to go that route, then invest the time and money a permanent bridge commands.

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