Bridge Work

The Select Board and Capital Planning Committee discussed how to fund needed bridge repairs at the Waterfield Bridge (pictured, looking at Mystic Valley Parkway taken from the bridge) and Lake Street Bridge. The committee voted to bond one bridge project and the Select Board argued for bonding both. With extra money from the recently passed budget override, the committee wants to employ a “pay as you go” strategy and avoid paying interest rates (even though interest rates are quite low, especially thanks to the town’s Aaa bond rating).

WINCHESTER - For the first time in ages, members of the Capital Planning Committee came to a Select Board meeting and didn’t beg for money.

Thanks to the recently passed general budget override, the committee now has the funds necessary to complete some needed projects. The only questions that remain are which ones.

“We have a backlog of projects,” chair Helen Philliou told the Select Board; “too many to choose from.”

She mentioned the first thing they hoped to accomplish involved funding repairs for both the Waterfield and Lake Street bridges. She said they already voted to bond one of the bridge projects, but didn’t know how to attack the other project.

Her committee, she said, hopes to utilize a “pay as you go” strategy to avoid paying interest on a bonded project. Such a bond would involve borrowing money from the state, which the town would pay back with interest over a certain number of years (such as with the Winchester High School project).

“Pay as you go” means the committee uses the money they currently have and doesn’t borrow any additional funds from the state. The one bridge project, they voted to bond at a cost of $1.5M. Right now, interests rates are low, and the town’s Aaa bond rating keeps them even lower thereby making bonding an option.

Select Board Chair Mariano Goluboff suggested bonding the other bridge project, as well. He noted, besides the bridge repairs, the many other projects that need finishing (or even starting).

“The bridges have to be done,” he acknowledged, adding in reference to other work how the intersection of Main Street and Washington Street is a mess, but Mystic Valley Parkway at Waterfield Road is a bigger safety issue.

He noted how both bridges have lasted for 50 and 80 years.

He felt if the committee bonded the other bridge project, as well, that would free up money for critical roadwork projects at Main and Washington streets and Mystic Valley Parkway and Waterfield Road.

“These projects will be done,” he said. “It’s cheaper to do them today.”

The board agreed, with Jaqueline Welch calling the two intersection projects, both of which abut the McCall Middle School on Main Street, a safety issue. She acknowledged the bridges were also a safety concern.

Select Board member Amy Shapiro also felt the McCall Middle School roadway projects were important, and like Goluboff, she believed bonding the second bridge project was feasible due to the low interest rates.

Select Board member Michael Bettencourt agreed, saying the traffic infrastructure projects were “enormous.” He also mentioned the failing bridges and backed the idea of possibly bonding both projects. He did, however, caution against too much bonding, suggesting the town “can’t bond everything.”

One way to alleviate bonding concerns, according to Goluboff, would be a policy whereby the town only bonds projects that will last longer than the bond. The bridges, which have lasted decades, would be such projects.

Another way to cut back on bonding is through grant money and the town is applying for a small bridge grant in the amount of $500,000.

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