GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 25, 2013

Wood or aluminum? City eyes choices on bridge

City eyeing options in fixing Good Harbor Beach bridge

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The city has been staring down a $65,000 option for temporarily repairing Good Harbor’s footbridge with a wooden connector, but Mayor Carolyn Kirk is now reaching out to test residents’ reaction to another option — an aluminum center span, either temporary or permanent.

While the aluminum, if it takes over permanently, would forever change aura of the iconic bridge, often depicted on postcards and in images of Gloucester summer memories, an aluminum replacement for the section of the bridge between Nautilus Road and the main portion would ring in at about $20,000 in cost. The idea is that 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 dangerous, approaching storm.

”If people really don’t object to the aluminum solution — and it would be a patch — then it doesn’t make any sense to put in a $65,000 temporary fix,” Kirk said Wednesday. “There’s an overwhelming sense that we shouldn’t put a lot of money into this if it’s going to wash away tomorrow.”

If the city goes with the temporary aluminum option, the portion of the bridge destroyed in this winter’s blizzard would be aluminum with a synthetic decking for the summer while city officials and committees plan a rebuild project and set aside money over the next year.

A poll on the blog GoodMorningGloucester showed 69 percent of an unknown number of voters in favor of the aluminum option as of Wednesday afternoon. The mayor’s letter preceding the poll does not specify whether the aluminum would be temporary or permanent.

“I didn’t (initially) indicate that it would be temporary, but my sense is, from the feedback I’m getting while trying to get input quickly, my sense is that we need a permanent solution and a redesign,” Kirk said. “If the building committee could have more proper public input through the building committee process over the next year, then we could get to that aesthetic that people might desire.”

City officials have been anxious to repair the bridge before the busy beach season, especially since people are still walking the bridge, regardless of posted signage and caution tape urging pedestrians to stay off the bridge.

Department of Public Works Director Mike Hale said that, because of the lightweight nature of an aluminum bridge — and the lack of dependence on pilings — public works crews could install an aluminum bridge themselves, rather than having the city hire contractors as the wooden bridge work would require.

”You have to recognize the efficiency of cost, timing and just getting things going,” Hale said. “If you take a look at most docks and gangways, they’ve transitioned from wood floats, docks and gangways to aluminum.”

Hale said it was important to recognize that the repair that would stand throughout this summer would buy time for the city to create a new design, whether that permanent bridge would be built from wood or aluminum. While he recognized that residents might prefer the nostalgic appearance of the wooden bridge, a permanent aluminum bridge would carry benefits of its own.

“It lasts, it doesn’t rot, it doesn’t have the same impacts from UV damage and splintering,” Hale listed.

He also noted that the department could simply could pack up an aluminum bridge before big storms to protect it from aggressive storm waters.

Though temporary repairs could fully replace only the initial section of bridge, Hale said the city must remain focused on finding a solution for the entire bridge.

“Even though we can have (the main span and ramp) functional for this beach season, they’re getting a little bit long in the tooth, too, and they have some age to them,” he said.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.