North Washington Street Bridge Begins Busy Period With Demo, Temporary Bridge Diversion

The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT), traffic consultants and general contractor JF White made their first return to the community since 2018 Tuesday night in a virtual meeting to talk about major changes coming this month to the North Washington Street Bridge project – which began in 2018 and is about to take a serious step forward this summer.

“This is going to be one of the project’s heaviest and active periods – from now until September we’re going to have 24/7 operations during demolition of the old bridge and we’re doing that to compress impacts to abutters,” said Nathanial Curtis of Howard Stein Hudson traffic consultants. “The best was to lessen impacts is to get things done fast. We’re also doing this to compress impacts to boaters and the navigation channel (under the bridge).”

The meeting was called to address the diversion of traffic starting the weekend of July 17-19 from the old bridge to the new, temporary bridge adjacent to the old structure. That will also trigger immediately the demolition of the old bridge. To date, much of the work has been about getting the massive amounts of utilities onto a temporary utility bridge and about building the temporary vehicle and pedestrian bridge as well. Now, with that part of the project done, contractors are ready to take the next step.

Right now, barring anything unforeseen, the team plans to start closing down traffic to the old bridge on July 17, and slowly moving things over throughout that weekend. On Friday, July 17, traffic will be moved to the temporary bridge at Keany Square in the North End for outbound.

On Saturday, July 18, pavement markings in Keany Square will be applied and traffic at City Square will be shifted to the temporary bridge. On Sunday, the sidewalk on the old bridge closes and moves to the temporary bridge, with pedestrians no longer able to walk across the harbor side walkway. Demolition will also begin and police details will begin to be used during peak periods.

At all times, there will be two 11-foot wide lanes going into Boston from Charlestown, and one 11-foot wide lane going out from Boston to Charlestown. The sidewalk will only be for pedestrians and not cyclists, with cyclists encouraged to use the roadway until a dedicated bike path is built on the new bridge. It is a similar configuration to what was used on the old bridge during emergency repairs in 2017.

The old bridge will be under demolition through September of this year, and then the construction of the new bridge will begin. That will start with coffer dams being installed to hold the new piers, pouring the foundation, doing the concrete work up from the water, laying the structural steel and then putting on the decking. The architectural elements, plantings and amenities will be the last thing to be installed in 2023.

A key part of the temporary bridge will be the left turn lane onto Commercial Street coming into Boston from Charlestown. Because of a bend in the roadway coming off the temporary bridge, the left turn lane has had to be shortened though it will remain. There is a possibility that restrictions could be put on that lane at peak times of the day or night, Curtis said.

“If that left turn is full and there isn’t enough space to get into it, drivers could block one of the thru lanes and tie up traffic,” he said. “MassDOT has a lot of concerns about that and getting in from Charlestown, particularly MBTA buses like the 111. If the left turn lane is building up and block a lane, you might see a restriction…That’s something we’ll monitor. We hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, there will be plenty of outreach and it won’t be a surprise.”

The 24/7 work during this summer will be done with some care for residents in the area, Curtis said. The bulk of the overnight shift from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. will be about positioning barges and preparing for the work during the day and evening – which will be mostly the louder periods.

A major concern for the boating community that tends to go between the Charles River and Boston Harbor using the Locks is the closure of the navigation channel virtually all summer.

To be safe during demolition, the bridge will be closed underneath from at least July 20 to Aug. 11 – but perhaps sooner than July 20. That will leave boaters with no way to go back and forth.

“If your boat is in the Charles River, you can use it on the Charles, but you won’t be able to go to the Harbor under the North Washington Street Bridge,” said Curtis. “If you have a boat on the Harbor, you can use it on the Harbor, but you can’t use it on the Charles River.”

Boaters have not been happy about this, but for safety, the team said there is no other option and they hope that marine traffic can take preparations now for the closure.

A major coup for Charlestown is, at the end of the Bridge project in 2023, a state-of-the-art dog park will be built on the site of the former Paul Revere Park Playground. That playground was demolished and reconstructed outside of the work area last summer.

“In the place of Paul Revere Playground, there will be a dog park built on that site at the end of the project,” Curtis said. “So, something for the kids and something for the puppies.” One final meeting online about the next stage of the Bridge project will take place tonight, July 2, at 6:30 p.m.

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