Bridge Funding Lost

Schell Bridge project takes funding
blow in Northfield

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2023 5:09:38 PM

NORTHFIELD — Replacement of the Schell Bridge will not be funded under
the 2022 Rural Surface Transportation federal grant program, a major blow to the
prospective project announced by the office of state Sen. Jo Comerford last
“It’s disappointing. This is a grant we worked hard on to try and get for this bridge,” Selectboard member Alex Meisner said. “That’s just part of the grant game. Sometimes, you just lose.”

The proposed project consists of the complete replacement of Schell Bridge, which carries East Northfield Road over the Connecticut River and has been closed since 1985 because it deteriorated beyond being safe to use. The existing bridge will be replaced with a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. Construction has been estimated to take up to three years once work begins.

The state Department of Transportation’s plans to reconstruct the bridge were put on pause in February, however, when bids came in almost twice as high as expected. Carrie Lavallee, deputy administrator and chief engineer with MassDOT’s Highway Division, sent a letter to Northfield Town Administrator Andrea Llamas earlier this month explaining construction bids were too expensive at the time. The department’s estimated construction cost was approximately $25 million and the lowest bid received was slightly more than $40 million. Other bids were as high as more than $50 million.

The Rural Surface Transportation grant program is intended “to help communities
around the United States complete transportation projects that will increase
connectivity, improve safety and reliability, support regional economic growth, and improve the quality of life for people living in rural areas,” according to the
U.S. Department of Transportation. The department announced $273.9 million in
grant funding across 12 transportation infrastructure projects in rural areas nationwide on Dec. 21. Northfield does not have the money to shoulder such an expense without grant funding, Meisner said. He voiced optimism, however, that other grant opportunities could arise.

“There’s always a chance for things to come up. Sometimes, its as simple as our town administrator getting an email,” he said. “All we can do at the moment is just keep (advocacy) active and keep it alive.”

Meisner voiced gratitude that the Selectboard and others advocating for the
project “have all been on the same team working toward this goal of getting the bridge built.” Like Meisner, these residents stressed a commitment toward maintaining the course. “Of course, the news about Schell Bridge not receiving a (Rural Surface Transportation) grant is hugely disappointing after the tremendous participation of Northfield residents in the planning process, not to mention the decades of efforts by the Friends of Schell Bridge on behalf of the river crossing, but I feel sure this project will continue,” Judy Wagner, a member of the Schell Bridge Advisory Committee, wrote in an email. “The combined history and practical purpose of this bridge makes it a compelling resource to pursue.”
“We look forward to meeting with town officials, the town Advisory Committee,
MassDOT and state representatives to find a way forward,” Barbara Richardson, who sits on the board of directors for the Friends of Schell Bridge, wrote in an email. “The town is lucky to have citizens like the Friends of Schell Bridge who long ago created a vision and stayed engaged,” Selectboard Chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque wrote in an email, stressing that “it’s important to take the long view” when considering the “very disappointing” news. “This is a ‘shovel-ready project’ and we are keeping our Schell Bridge Advisory Committee active.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or