By Stephen Quigley
If you think the morning commute using the Craigie Drawbridge into Boston is bad now, just wait until November 6. That is when the dismantling and reconstruction of the old bridge will start in earnest and the 45,000 cars and motorists that use this route can expect detours, confusion and traffic jams.
This was the feeling at the meeting held Monday night on Beacon Hill as officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) told residents of their plans to help mitigate a potential nightmare.
Anyone who uses the route coming from either Charlestown or Somerville know that there has been construction on the Craigie Dam Bridge by the Museum of Science over the last year but the impact on the traffic has been minimal.
However, the drawbridge reconstruction phase is another story.
Starting on November 6 and until the first week of December, there will only be two lanes of traffic that will be able to use the bridge and these two lanes are for the commuters leaving Boston.
For those commuters, the congestion will not be as crushing.
So if you are heading west over the bridge even at rush hour, traffic will not be stopped, and in fact, is not a problem right now even with the construction going on.
You can turn right over the bridge and head into Charlestown almost free of traffic.
Heading the other way is the problem.
The crush heading into Boston from Cambridge and the cars coming into and out of the museum create a gigantic jam of traffic almost everyday.
The commuters going into Boston will be re-routed down Memorial Drive/Land Blvd. to the Longfellow Bridge or will be sent over Gilmore Bridge to Rutherford Ave. to the onramp by City Square to get to 93 South or use the North Washington Street Bridge into the North End and down by the TD Garden to the Leverett Circle.
The construction company, JF White that has been hired to do the project has only six months to complete the rebuilding of the drawbridge.
The work crew will literally be working on this project 24 hours per day seven days per week with only Thanksgiving and Christmas off.
In the first phase, there will be two temporary bridges constructed over the existing bridge. For the first four weeks there will be only two lanes of traffic available and these two lanes will be dedicated to commuters leaving Boston. In the second phase, starting in the first week of December, commuters will be able to use the temporary bridges in both directions while work crews take apart all the infrastructure and mechanical equipment of the old drawbridge. This phase will last until the first week in February, so expect a decent commute.
In phase three, which will last until the second week in April, the temporary bridges will be taken down when the new surface drawbridge is completed but again there will only be two lanes of traffic in this time period and both of these lanes will be dedicated to traffic leaving Boston.
In the interim, there will be signs directing commuters to the detour routes as well as police patrols in the key intersections like at Charles and Cambridge Streets as well as Third Street in Cambridge. Officials also hope to use the remote camera system to quickly address any traffic snarls.
Pedestrians and bicyclists will be permitted to use the roadway in both directions but will also have minor inconveniences. With a police officer on duty, pedestrians and bicyclists will have to cross the street to use the sidewalks and bicyclists will be required to walk their bicycles for about 45 feet, the length of the temporary sidewalk.
The Craigie Drawbridge and the Dam Bridge have been funded under the Patrick-Murray Accelerated Bridge Program with a price tag of $42.8M.
DOT officials had to get the approval to shut down the water exit/entrance for the Charles River by the Coast Guard. This was the reason that repairs have to be done in this six-month window.
“April 27 is the drop dead date to finish this project,” Jonathan Gulliver of the DOT said. “Otherwise the contractor faces a fine of $25,000 per day.”
When completed, the project will have two eight foot sidewalks on both sides with a 35 foot roadway for traffic leaving Boston and 24 foot roadway going into Leverett Circle. The road surface of the new bridge and sidewalks will be solid concrete rather than the grates of the present bridge.
“The new bridge will not look very different than what is there now,” Gulliver said. He urged commuters to use as much public transportation as possible and said the major employers like Spaulding Rehab Hospital and Mass. General Hospital will try to shuttle employees to lessen traffic.