Irritated drivers must deal with lengthy detours by Beaver Brook

AMHERST – Roads are important to people: Just see what happens when one gets closed.

“I’ll admit, it’s been amusing to watch them jump up and down and see their faces get purple,” said Shelley Bice.

Bice has gotten this interesting view of humanity over the past three weeks because she lives on New Boston Road, near a large culvert or small bridge- the name, as it turns out, makes a difference – that was badly weakened by minor flooding back on April 2.

The flooding of Beaver Brook led to six months of weight limits that altered four school bus routes, and then in late October to a complete closure during construction of a new bridge.

Due to a shortage of cross-connecting streets, the closure created lengthy detours, either by way of Mack Hill and a dirt road, or by way of Boston Post Road and a trip almost to the center of Mont Vernon.

Even mail service has been curtailed. Homeowners between the closed bridge and Gavin Road have to go to the post office to pick up letters and packages until the bridge reopens.

“I don’t leave here until I plan 16 different places to go,” joked Bice.

At least one person got so irritated that a protest petition was circulated, to uncertain results.

Bice says she thinks most of the annoyance was due to a lack of notice given to homeowners, and that it has mostly subsided as people have gotten used to the detours.

What exasperation remains should end this weekend or early next week, when the repair work will finish, reopening a major cut-through from Amherst to points northeast.

“That’s great. We keep asking for updates – when, when, when?” said Brenda Meyer, an instructor for First Student, which provides bus service to Amherst and Mont Vernon.

School buses have had to avoid the bridge since the floods, due to the weight limits. Since the closure, even vans that carry special-education students have been detoured.

“It’s affected a lot of routes, especially the Mont Vernon routes,” said Meyer.

Bruce Berry, director of the Amherst Highway Department, said people have been wondering when the road would be back to normal almost since the day the bridge first washed away.

The delay was caused by a variety of circumstances.

“It wasn’t clear to us at first what was going on. We had to wait for the water to go down, and finally we realized the whole bottom of the(culvert) was corroded,” Berry said.

Then came negotiations to determine whether this was a culvert or big enough to be classified as a bridge and therefore eligible for state construction aid. (Answer: it is big enough, but not by much – and even so no state money is likely for several years. Berry is paying the $80,000-$100,000 cost out of his department budget, largely by cutting back on paving.)

Then came getting federal and state permits, and waiting for the unusually high waters of fall to subside.

Finally, in late October, work began and the road was completely closed.

Bice lives at the corner of New Boston Road and Old Mont Vernon Road, the last intersection going south before getting to the bridge, so she has had full view of the automotive reactions.

“They’ll come screeching to a halt, and do wheelies in my driveway,” she said, with slight exaggeration.

As for herself, Bice regards the inconvenience with aplomb. “I don’t think it’s worth getting aggravated over,” she said. “It’s not that bad.”

In the highway department, Berry hopes that she is the rule, not the exception.

“Unfortunately, it’s a tremendous inconvenience right now,” he said. “In a month from now, everybody will have forgotten – I hope.”