Planners say they’ll keep Blackstone Viaduct
19th century bridge structure will be used as part of bike path
BLACKSTONE – The historic Seven Arch viaduct will be saved and given a new lease on life as part of the Blackstone River Greenway Bike Path project.
Blackstone received the news Tuesday when Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation acting Chief Engineer Robert Lowell told a gathering of town officials and residents that a recent condition assessment of the viaduct found the composition and condition of the structure to be satisfactory and eligible for preservation.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the selectmen, Lowell said a long-awaited condition assessment conducted by Gill Engineering Associations, an independent structural engineering firm, found the viaduct to be in reasonably good shape.
The DCR, which had planned to demolish the viaduct as part of its original plan for the bike path, agreed to conduct a condition assessment of the viaduct after town and state officials and residents rallied to save the historic structure.
Lowell said Tuesday that based on the findings in the assessment report, the DCR is now committed to preserving the viaduct and using it as part of the bike path.
“In effect, the study looked at the composition and condition of the viaduct and the findings were positive enough for us to work more closely on
the restoration piece of this and try to come up with some cost assessments,” he said. “In many areas, the concrete was in good shape and found to be of good construction strength. Overall, it’s in satisfactory condition.”
Lowell said the positive findings in the report “gives us (DCR) a direction to go forward and look at this for consideration for additional work that might be required to stabilize the viaduct for use as part of the main course of the bike path trail. That would be our intent.”
That additional work, he said, would take place in the spring and include cleaning, repairing and restoring the structure to restore its capacity. That process would include cleaning the concrete to expose the original granite.
“Keeping water out of the joints will maintain the integrity of the structure,” Lowell said. “If they can be kept dry, the viaduct can be preserved for a very long time.”
The southern end of the Massachusetts segment of the Blackstone River Greenway Bike Path, a 3.7-mile stretch in Blackstone, Millville and Uxbridge, is on target to open in late in 2016 and much of the work last summer was focused in Blackstone where town officials granted the state an easement so it can eventually construct a halfmile connection between the Blackstone Depot site and the Rhode Island state line.
The southern end of the Massachusetts stretch has been under construction for the past two years, including bridge repairs. The Greenway in this stretch is 3.7 miles of trails and a multi-use path along the former railroad line between South Uxbridge, Route 146A, through Millville and to the Blackstone Depot site. The project itself terminates at Route 146A in Uxbridge. Additionally, several miles in Uxbridge, from the Greenway trail near Route 146 Exit 1 to the River Bend Farm on Oak Street, is being evaluated by the state’s engineering and design firm.
The piece of the Greenway that was under construction this past summer included the building of seven bridges, while a second contract will build a tunnel at Church Street and restore a bridge over Main Street in Blackstone. Those two projects were finished in the fall.
The third and last contract is the actual construction of the entire Greenway, which will link all the bridges, the tunnel, and reconstruction of the most complicated bridge – the Triad Bridge in Millville.
The cost for all three construction contracts is $20 million, and is one of the most expensive greenway sections ever built in New England. The Blackstone section of the bike path is slated to open this summer.
As for where the bike path comes into Blackstone, the original plan was to continue along the Southern New England Trunkline Trail, go over the Canal Street Bridge, the single span and then the Seven Arch viaduct, before connecting back down to the state line where Rhode Island has committed to building a bridge over the river and meeting Massachusetts at the border.
However, town officials learned that the plan changed because of the state’s perception of the viaduct, which the DCR originally claimed would need to be demolished or rebuilt at a cost of approximately $8 million. The DCR believed initially that the roughly quarter-mile connection from that point at the Depot near St. Paul Street to the Rhode Island border did not justify spending that kind of money, so the plan at that time was to circumvent those structures and eventually demolish the viaduct.
The proposal was met with swift opposition by the town’s Board of Selectmen, Planning Board and Historical Commission, which argued that the structure was in fact strong enough to be used as part of the bike path. The move to save the viaduct was also bolstered by the efforts of David Barber, president of the Blackstone Canal Conservancy, Inc., a voluntary group that educates the public about the canal and works to preserve its historic remains.
After hearing the town’s concerns, Dan Driscoll, director of recreation facilities and planning for the DCR, agreed that the agency would reconsider its original plan.
Lowell told town officials in September that the DCR may have been too hasty when it originally suggested that the Seven Arch viaduct be circumvented and eventu- ally demolished as part of the bike path as it comes into Blackstone.
“We did not have a full structural evaluation of the Seven-Arch conduit and there may have been some assumptions made earlier,” he said at that time. “The DCR, under the leadership of Commissioner (Carol) Sanchez, is committed to this project, and we agree that this is a historic structure that should be persevered if it can be.”
When completed the Blackstone Valley greenway will go from Route 146A in Uxbridge to the Rhode Island border - roughly 3.7 miles in length – then from the Rhode Island border all the way to Providence for a total of 24 miles.
The Blackstone River Greenway was conceived of as including a 48-mile long bikeway connecting Worcester to Providence, running the length of the National Heritage Corridor and following the Blackstone River and canal wherever possible. The Greenway will also connect to the already completed East Bay Bike Path, allowing users to continue to Bristol, and ultimately, Newport.
In Massachusetts, approxi- mately 3.5 miles of the bikeway are complete, including 2.5 miles of off-road facility in Millbury and Worcester. In Worcester, additional on-road path stretches connect the Greenway with various neighborhoods, including Quinsigamond Village where a bike path spur went into construction last year and connect with the Worcester Blackstone Visitor Center, currently in design. Between Crompton Park and Union Station, another stretch of the bike path is in design and is expected to be on-road facility where the users will be separated from roadway traffic.
In Rhode Island, collaboration between the Departments of Transportation and Environmental Management has resulted in 11.5 miles of continuous off-road bike path being open to the public in Cumberland, Lincoln, and Woonsocket, and several miles of on-road path in Providence and Pawtucket. In total, nearly 16 miles of bike path have been completed along the Blackstone River Greenway, and the remaining 8 miles are in design.