Alford Street Bridge ‘Change Order’ Costs State, Boston Millions

The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the City of Boston have revealed this week that the unexpected, extended construction on the Alford Street Bridge this fall was the result of an approval in 2012 that allowed a less-stable bridge decking to be installed in place of more stable materials – materials that were called for in the original contract.

The story on the faulty decking was first reported by Channel 4’s I-Team last week, but the Patriot-Bridge has been pursuing the story since last summer.

The issue percolated over the summer when the Independent learned that the Alford Street Drawbridge – on the Charlestown/Everett line – was going to have to go under construction again. That came just a few years after a major construction re-build that lasted nearly four years. Very little was disclosed by state officials as to why the new bridge already needed major repairs, but sources had indicated last summer that the iron decking was already breaking down.

On Oct. 1, the state and City of Boston – who co-own the Bridge – began a lengthy, $15 million rebuild of the decking – a price tag on top of the already $50 million spent previously.

The project is supposed to last through April or May, 2019.

Already, though, it has drivers and residents bemoaning a situation that they believe should not be happening.

Daily gridlock due to permanent lane closures routinely have traffic backed up through Sullivan Square, Rutherford Avenue, Lower Broadway Everett and into Sweetser Circle – compromising response times by both City’s public safety agencies.

State Rep. Dan Ryan said he wants to focus on getting the roads and bridges on the corridor fixed after generations of neglect. While he doesn’t like to see the waste, he said he is not surprised.

“The important thing to focus on right now is getting these repairs done immediately and efficiently,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of time to sort out why certain decisions were made, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This stretch of roadway has been shortchanged and ignored for generations. I’ve spent nearly 20 years just trying to get the powers that be to pay attention to us. These roads, bridges, and underpasses were only getting fixed because decades of neglect made them unusable. I hate to see wasted millions, but it does not surprise me. This is an unfortunate set-back, but at least we have people finally paying attention to this area. Let’s use this opportunity to fix historic wrongs for the whole corridor.”

The City of Boston had no comment on the matter after reviewing the situation.

In Everett, Fire Chief Tony Carli said the Department has to maintain quick response times to Lower Broadway due to the heavy industry that is there – such as Schnitzer Steel, DistriGas, Exxon and the Power Plant, as well as the residential neighborhood. In the days after the Oct. 1 beginning of the Bridge, he said it quickly became apparent something needed to change.

“We started to see an increase in response times because of the traffic down to one lane,” he said. “We already knew that there would be things going on with the SPS and casino work, but the Alford Street Bridge made that the perfect storm, especially in the morning commutes.”

The Everett Fire Department has put an apparatus on Lower Broadway in a Fire Command Station over the last two weeks daily from 5:30 to 9 a.m. Carli said they have been very busy and have responded to several incidents with good response times.

MassDOT, however, has refused to pay for the cost of that engine deployment. Instead, Encore Boston Harbor has agreed to pay for it, with Carli saying the casino is aware they are a cause for the traffic problems now too.

MassDOT told the Patriot Bridge that in 2012, MassDOT, the City of Boston and the Federal Highway Administration approved the contractor to use a riveted grid decking system. That was an alternate material, and not the material originally called for in the contract documents. The riveted system was, at the time, determined to be the most appropriate product available for the project. That riveted decking system was chosen over what many say is the more appropriate product, a welded grid deck.

MassDOT stated that alternative materials are often approved for many reasons.

“Alternative products are commonly approved for construction projects based upon the latest models and versions of products and what is currently available in the market,” read their statement.

The riveted decking was installed in 2014, but began failing in less than a year.

According to materials from MassDOT, after the bridge was turned over to the City of Boston, it began to break down in the inbound lane. Sources said that, likely, the team didn’t anticipate the speed and frequency of trucks from the Produce Center going over the Bridge to get to the highway.

Last year, it was observed that a temporary fix was put in place when iron panels were welded over the riveted decking. However, that made the decking too heavy for the motors that operate the drawbridge – coming close to burning them out frequently.

After back and forth between the state, City of Boston and the contractor, SPS New England, it was determined that all three parties would share some portion of the additional $15-million cost to put on the more-stable decking.

“In an effort to settle the issue and provide a deficiency free grid deck, MassDOT directed SPS New England replace the riveted alternate with the contract specified welded grid deck,” read materials from MassDOT. “After evaluating the current market and the product options, the decision was made to install a welded grid decking system on the Alford Street Bridge through the ongoing repair work.”

SPS New England has been ordered to do the “extra work” on the Bridge through and Extra Work Order. The price tag is estimated at $15 million, but that could change. Right now, the City of Boston, MassDOT and SPS will split the costs, but negotiations are still ongoing as to whom will pay what.

MassDOT indicated the bridge is safe for travel.

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