By Seth Daniel
The $150 million, five-year re-construction of the North Washington Street Bridge is taking its first step off of the planning boards and onto the construction phase this month as the state Department of Transportation and the City prepares to put the project out to bid.
The long-anticipated project has been in design-mode and in a holding pattern for some time, but City Engineer Para Jayasinghe said action on the project is at hand.
“It is a complicated project so we expect to get questions from contractors and to answer those questions during the bidding process, but we expect to have a contractor on board by about February or March 2018,” he said. “That means work could begin by spring 2018. The first task for the contractor will be to deal with the utilities that are on the bridge. So, we expect 2018 will be quiet as they deal with that and they’ll ease into more construction. By 2019, I’m going to assume it would be in full construction mode. It’s not easy to build bridges and move gas lines and electrical lines. It’s not like we can move it to another city or another right of way. That’s what makes this such a complicated project and why it will take time.”
The time element is going to be the major concern for those in the Town, many of whom use the bridge to drive downtown to work or to the schools in the North End. Others use the bridge to walk or bike to and from downtown – and folks can certainly expect a long duration of discomfort when construction ensues.
The fact that it’s a five-year timetable with about four years of active construction is a scary proposition for those in the Town who already face “Monumental” backups on the existing bridge.
Jayasinghe said they will build the bridge one side at a time, which means they will maintain at all times two vehicle lanes going inbound and one vehicle lane going outbound. Pedestrian access will also be maintained on the open side at all times as well, he said.
“We are constantly working to see how the timeline can be lessened,” he said. “The amount of utilities on the bridge that need to be maintained is what drives that timeframe. Plus we need to maintain two lanes in and one lane out at all times.”
The particular challenge is a critical 150 kW Eversource electrical line that runs over the bridge and powers a large swath of the downtown. Dealing with that, as well as the gas lines and other utilities will be a challenge.
He added that the open vehicular lanes would be in service 90 percent of the time, with some occasions where machinery on the bridge will require a complete shutdown for a short period.
As far as the design, Jayasinghe said little has changed since meetings were held in 2015 throughout Charlestown. The finished bridge still contains three lanes inbound and two lanes outbound, with lots of greenery, large sidewalks and dedicated bicycle lanes.
However, one major change in the lane configuration is the addition of a dedicated bus lane – or a bus rapid transit (BRT) lane. That addition accommodates plans for BRT lanes along Rutherford Avenue, Sullivan Square, Lower Broadway Everett and all the way up into Broadway Everett. Once completed, from Everett’s Glendale Square or from the Sullivan Square Station, one would be able to have a fully-connected BRT with few stop lights and no vehicular traffic.
Pilot programs of BRT lanes in Everett this year have shown them to reduce bus commute times substantially through congested areas such as the North Washington Street Bridge.
“One thing that has been changed since the last design is the inclusion of a BRT lane on the bridge inbound,” said Jayasinghe, noting that one of the three inbound lanes will now be slated for a BRT…We agree 100 percent that when we build bridges, it needs to work and accommodate needs for the next 50 to 100 years…This bridge handles so many inter-city MBTA buses, we want to make sure they have their own lane…When it’s done, all the dots are being connected. All up to Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square and into Lower Broadway of Everett.”
In conclusion, Jayasinghe said the City and state are very excited that the project is finally making moves.
“It is very exciting that finally this project is getting advertised (for bids),” he said. “We are there.”