NORTH READING — If you’ve experienced maneuvering through the town center during school pick-up and drop-off times at the high school and middle school, or during rush hours, hold on to your hats because it is about to get dicier ‘round the clock.

Due to the failure of the twin culvert pipes through which the Ipswich River flows underneath Chestnut Street – not far from its intersection with Park Street – the town will shortly be forced to close this section of Chestnut Street to all but local traffic until it can be repaired, per MassDOT.

And, due to the impact such a closure will have on the surrounding streets where traffic must be detoured for a long period of time, the town must erect a temporary traffic light at Park and Central Streets. The Department of Public Works has issued an Invitation to Bid for the temporary traffic signal installation in today’s Transcript, with sealed bids due Thursday, June 8 at 10 a.m., at which time they will be publicly opened and read by DPW Director Joe Parisi.

Parisi presented a detailed report to the Select Board Monday night on the proposal along with the preliminary signage and detour plan throughout the town center and surrounding area, prompting a long discussion with the board, Parisi and Police Chief Michael Murphy.

The upgrading of the culverts in question is in the queue of the town’s long-term capital planning needs and in fact, a warrant article has been included in the Annual Town Meeting on June 12 requesting $300,000 for the design and permitting costs associated with the eventual replacement of these culverts at an estimated cost of $3.5 million, for which the town was planning to seek funding in next year’s budget. Finance Committee Chair Abby Hurlbut and Vice Chair Don Kelliher have both advocated the need to bring this project to the forefront of the town’s capital needs priorities because it is only going to get more expensive as construction costs continue to rise.

According to Parisi’s presentation to the board, the timeline of events includes emergency culvert repairs made in 2021 during which it was determined that replacement culverts would be necessary to prevent a “future catastrophic failure.” The town learned that it is not eligible for a small bridge grant due to the large span involved. Parisi pointed out that the advantages of a bridge versus replacing the culverts include allowing “unrestricted flow of the Ipswich River” which both eliminates debris built-up and the associated maintenance while providing unrestricted access for wildlife and fish plus a recreational benefit of enable kayaks and canoes to pass through as well.

Subsequently, a westbound sinkhole in the roadway developed June 24, 2022 which was followed by a contract being signed July 13, 2022 with TEC for Chestnut Street bridge data collection in preparation for designing the replacement project. Data collection included wetlands determination, existing conditions and base mapping, geotechnical investigation and analysis, including borings for bridge abutment foundation analysis; stream sediment sampling, hydrology and hydraulic analysis and bridge type study.

Meanwhile, an eastbound roadway sinkhole developed August 1, 2022.

The DPW submitted its capital request for bridge design funding in October 2022 which is recommended for approval at the June 12, 2023 Town Meeting.

Another eastbound roadway sinkhole redeveloped April 16, 2023 followed by a westbound roadway sinkhole re-developing on May 8, 2023, which was inspected by TEC on the same day and notification was also made that day to MassDOT of the “continuing development of sinkholes over culvert.” This prompted MassDOT to conduct a field inspection of the culvert on May 11, 2023 which was followed by a conference call to discuss the findings.

The next day, May 12, 2023, town officials and TEC were briefed on the condition of the culvert in a Zoom meeting. The town received a recommendation letter from MassDOT on May 15, 2023 to “close the Chestnut Street bridge culvert” to vehicular traffic and an implementation meeting with town officials and TEC was held on May 16.

The result of this implementation meeting was discussed with the board Monday night and MassDOT is awaiting the town’s action plan in writing this Friday, May 26 based on its findings of the “seriously deteriorated corrugated metal pipe walls along the waterline for both corrugated metal pipes resulting in the loss of find structural fill material.”

Five points of impact

According to Parisi, there will be five points of impact to the traveling public:

  • Chestnut Street at Central Street, which will be open to local traffic only. Chestnut Street will be closed after the DPW entrance;
  • Central Street at Park Street., due to an increase in traffic;
  • Park Street at Chestnut Street., where Chestnut Street will be closed;
  • Park Street at Central Street, due to an increase in traffic;
  • Park Street at Haverhill Street, due to increased traffic at this signalized intersection.

Temporary signal cost

The cost of temporary signal is estimated by Parisi to be about $150,000 but the exact cost will not be known until the sealed bids are received. He based this estimate on the installation of the lights, police traffic details during installation, rental of lights from contractor, maintenance of lights, electricity costs to operate the control box and lights and the removal of the temporary lights and restoration of the area.

Preliminary signage of detour plan

Due to the presence of homes, the town’s DPW garage and the RMLD equipment behind the garage as well as the Maguire Field and KidSpot locations, local traffic will to these areas all must factor into the plan the town has developed. Factored into this plan is giving the traveling public plenty of notice to seek alternate routes.

On Chestnut Street at Park Street, eight 4-foot chevrons, three 4-foot road closed signs, seven jersey barriers and 11 lights will be erected to traverse both travel lanes. A temporary reader board “road closed” sign will also be added.

Two jersey barriers will be erected across the westbound side of the road after the DPW entrance plus one “road closed” sign and four lights.

Further down the road will be another jersey barrier and a sign indicating the road is open to 185 Chestnut St. only plus one road closed sign and four lights.

A road closed ahead sign will be added to the road farther up.

At Central and Chestnut Streets, a sign “open local traffic only” will be erected specifying Moynihan Lumber, DPW and Maguire Field.

Two additional signs will be added to Chestnut Street near KidSpot and near Upton Ave. indicating “Road closed local traffic only.”

Signage at several points along Park Street, including Freedom/Park/Winter streets, will indicate that “Chestnut Street is closed – seek alternate route.”

Another temporary message board sign on Park Street will inform drivers of a “signal ahead.”

An additional seven points along Central Street and Park Street have been designated for signage indicating “signal ahead.”