French King Bridge safety barrier construction at ‘halfway point’

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 04-10-2023 4:01 PM

The French King Bridge between Gill and Erving is expected to be reduced to one lane of alternating traffic this week as the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) continues its work to install safety barriers, a project that Gill Police Chief Christopher Redmond says is roughly halfway to completion.

The work is scheduled to occur from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting Monday, April 10, and ending Friday, April 14, according to MassDOT. Redmond said the timeline of lane closure could be condensed, with the potential completion of line painting on Tuesday.

Temporary traffic control operations will consist of detour signs, message boards, arrow boards and police details. MassDOT advises drivers who are traveling through the affected areas to expect delays, reduce speed and use caution. All scheduled work is weather dependent.

The project to install 9-foot-tall safety barriers at the French King Bridge, which has garnered a reputation as a destination for suicides, is slated for completion this year. Although the project was kept off MassDOT’s Capital Investment Plan in the spring of 2020, MassDOT announced in February 2021 that the project was finally moving ahead following advocacy from town officials, legislators and suicide prevention advocates.

The preliminary construction process began in May 2022. Work continued through the fall before being put on hold for the winter.

Redmond said while there is “still a fair amount of work to do” on the bridge, roughly 50% of the safety barrier installation work has been completed thus far. Protective screening is now in place on the bridge’s north side, while installation is just beginning on the south side.

“We’re probably at the official halfway point,” Redmond projected.

Redmond previously said that while he doesn’t know a “definitive answer” as to how many people have died by suicide at the bridge, he estimates the number to be somewhere in “the mid-20s” since when he joined the Gill Police Department in 1992. Police responding to someone threatening to jump, however, has been “almost a weekly occurrence,” he said.

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The frequency of calls, Redmond noted, has yet to change since construction on the safety barriers began.

“There’s no set benchmark for seasons or time of day or night … but overall,” he said, “I’d say we’re still fielding similar calls for service there.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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