28 Nov./Holyoke MA – The PVR/PAS Holyoke interchange will reopen within weeks for its first traffic since 2013. The IRAP-funded repair project on the bridge across Holyoke’s Third-level Canal has been completed, and only track work on the PAS yard access remains for the interchange to be restored to service.
International construction supplies company signs on
The revived connection to NS was the decisive factor in James Hardie Building Products’ choice to locate its first northeast facility in Westfield. JHBH has just acquired the 237,000 sq-ft (former) National Envelope property in Westfield . Australia-based JHBP is the world’s leading manufacturer of fiber-cement construction products, including the most popular exterior lap siding and interior cement board. The primary ingredient of these products is wood pulp, and Holyoke/Westfield is well-positioned to receive northwoods pulp via rail. The company’s nine current U.S. locations are classified as manufacturing sites, and the marketing effort relies on independent distributors. Reports of traffic volume at other JHBP U.S. locations indicate that the new facility could potentially become one of PVR’s biggest customers.
Old bridge nearly shifted off piers
For some time up to Q4 2013, the PVR bridge had been dancing slightly on its piers. While no operational incident had occurred, in-house inspectors took it out of service. The PAR interchange just north of the bridge had delivered PVR traffic to the Conn River line, for connection with NS at Mechanicville. Following the bridge embargo, all PVR northern traffic was rerouted via Westfield on CSX.
The structure was built ca. 1879 across the lowest channel of Holyoke’s unique canal system. It provided the bustling Holyoke-Westfield industrial region with north-south access to NYNH&H’s Conn River line. The curved bridge was constructed of four plate girder spans resting on steel shim bearings atop three staggered granite-block piers, and meeting abutments at highly oblique angles.
At the time of the bridge’s closure in 2013, PVR determined that no ROI equation added up to its repair. With the emerging prospect of a major new customer demanding access to multiple Class I roads, PVR applied to MassDOT for a 2017 IRAP grant, and was awarded $495,000 for the project.
Starting on 08 October, the bridge spans were removed and placed in the yard north of the canal. The top two layers of pier blocks were removed  , and the new top surface prepared for pre-stressed caps, topped by engineered bearings. These assemblies equaled the height of the original blocks and shims, but are far more robust and resistant to lateral forces. The new abutments were cast in place, with similar appropriate bearing and placement fixtures. New fixture assemblies were fabricated and installed, and the bridge spans were replaced By 16 November, the track was reconnected, and the bridge deemed serviceable by PVR.
 Rather than shoving the unneeded granite pier blocks where one might expect, they were actually removed and assembled as a wall to manage parking in the yard area.