Testing response times around causeway detours with Fire Chief Ellis

By Angie Hilsman | Jun 29, 2016
Photo by: Angie Hilsman MassDOT has started prepping detour signs for the causeway construction. A police officer guarding the signage at Apponagansett Park said this wasn't even half of the markers.

The Padanaram Causeway Rehabilitation project will shut down Gulf Road from the eastern edge of Apponagansett Park to the Padanaram Bridge, and Smith Neck Road from Gulf Road southerly 550 feet starting July 6, which could strain resources for Fire District No. 1.

The District No. 1 headquarters—located at 10 Bridge Street—will be moving equipment elsewhere in response to the $8,274,700-million project that will close the bridge and causeway for roadway, drainage, structural, and lighting improvements.

Engine No. 2—featuring a pump and ladder—will be housed at the privately owned Concordia Company, a boathouse located at 300 Gulf Road.

District No. 1 Fire Chief Brad Ellis said that company president Stuart MacGregor has graciously housed equipment there before during snow storms and hurricanes.

Crossing the bridge—from the firehouse to the Smith Neck Road intersection—is a half mile drive, said Ellis.

Dartmouth Week went for a drive with Ellis to test response times around the detour routes. Starting at the firehouse, we went up Elm Street, left onto Russells Mills Road, left onto Bakerville Road, and left onto Gulf Road. Stopping at Concordia, the trip took 3.9 miles and eight minutes. To get to the same Smith Neck Road intersection, the travel totaled five miles and 10 minutes.

“To go up Elm Street to the police station takes three minutes. You’d already be on scene [if the bridge were open],” said Ellis.

It’s seven and a half miles if you have to follow Rock O’Dundee Road to Nonquitt, the private property that will house Engine No. 3. This engine is a smaller apparatus that only features a pump, but holds 1,000 gallons of water, said Ellis.

“That’s why it’s important to have an engine on this side of Smith Neck and that one,” said Ellis.

Ellis said that hauling a firetruck around the winding backroads can be difficult. Not only are firefighters forced to drive below the speed limit due to top-heavy vehicles, but they also have to obey stop signs and other rules of the road—despite the sirens.

He explained that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will have to close about 550 feet of Smith Neck Road off the Gulf Road intersection to allow drainage.

The construction process will heighten the causeway and create stagnant water pockets, which could be devastating if faced with a hurricane. To limit potential damage, MassDOT must add culverts under the bridge to allow water to flow north of the causeway. Water must also be able to move from the salt pond on the west side of Smith Neck Road to the east side, said Ellis.

The fire chief showed concern over the two-year estimate for the project, slated to finish by June 11, 2018.

“If they would finish a section and let us use the bridge over the winter, that would be nice,” said Ellis. The Concordia boatyard is packed during that time of year, which could make exiting in a rush that much more difficult.

Ellis said that the Bridge Street station will still house three fire apparatus, which include two pumps, emergency medical service equipment, and a ladder/tower setup.

District No. 2 will aid in immediate backup if necessary, said Ellis, although Fire District No. 3 will also help via mutual aid if necessary. None of the precautions will be of additional cost for District No. 1.

During the causeway construction, the bridge will be operational for boats and follow a normal schedule. It will, however, be closed to motor vehicles.

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