One of the greatest achievements last year in the early stages of the looming North Washington Street Bridge project was getting approval to build a temporary bridge – allowing work to go faster and smoother while vehicle, bike and pedestrian traffic remains intact.
The announcement was a breath of fresh air for those in the Town who have dreaded the impacts of the five-year project for decades.
Now, this summer, the makings for that temporary bridge are being put in place as the monumental utility moving work also continues to be relocated onto a temporary bridge as well.
This month marks the first full year on the project for MassDOT and the contractor, JF White.
“A lot of the first year was getting the permits approved and the design for the temporary vehicular bridge ready,” said Chris Barry of JF White. “I think in the upcoming months, it will start progressing very noticeably and throughout the fall. There will be a lot going on.”
Already, just off City Square and in Paul Revere Park one can see the new foam abutments, and in the water, the steel infrastructure that will carry the temporary bridge. The materials used for the temporary bridge will not be used in the permanent structure as they are fundamentally different types of bridges. All materials associated with the temporary bridge will be removed and many of these elements can either be recycled or reused in other temporary bridges.
The temporary bridge, which will be constructed using prefabricated components, will carry three travel lanes including one for vehicles heading to Charlestown, two towards Boston, and a single sidewalk on the side closest to the Charles River locks. The lengths of the two bridges will be different as the temporary bridge involves a curve at both ends so that it can be outside the work area for the permanent bridge.
MassDOT estimates at the moment that the temporary bridge will shorten the project by six months.
For those working on the project, it means better safety for workers, and a better system using the Harbor to bring in most materials. That will reduce truck traffic and create a separate work zone for dismantling the old bridge and re-building the new bridge.
“What it means is all vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be flowing smoothly and also kept away from the work zone,” said Barry. “It gives us the full width of the Bridge to work and not have to worry about the public using part of the Bridge as we work. It also gives us far better access because a majority of the materials will be shipped in and out by barges on the water. Using the temporary Bridge, we can get easier and unimpeded access to the Harbor. It was a proposal we thought would work well and one we moved forward with to get approvals from MassDOT and many other agencies.”
MassDOT Resident Engineer Ahmad Ilyas said the critical path right now is getting the utilities off of the Bridge. He said there is a major 115 kV electric line, as well as natural gas lines and major water/sewer lines. Those have to remain in service the entire time, which makes moving them a delicate surgery.
“That utility work is a critical path for us right now,” said Ilyas, who is on site every day. “Everything has to get off the Bridge before we can move traffic over.”
Ilyas, Barry and JF White Supt. Patrick Wilson said they expect to have the utilities off the Bridge and onto a utility bridge by the end of the year, while also working simultaneously on the temporary vehicular bridge. They estimated traffic could be moved over to the temporary bridge by February or March 2020, but they would meet with the community before making the move. No meetings have yet been planned, but dates will be forthcoming.
The dismantling work will begin after that, and will move from north to south, starting in Charlestown and moving to the North End. They will remove the decking, then take off the steel (which will be shipped out for recycling), and finally remove the granite piers.
Once the Bridge is dismantled, the new structure will begin to take shape. That is where the temporary bridge and Harbor access will really pay off.
“That work is almost exclusively by barge,” said Barry. “That will be very few deliveries on the ground due to the access to the Harbor.”
Ilyas said they are still predicting substantial completion of the new Bridge by November 2023.
The project’s value is $176.8 million and this includes the temporary and permanent structures. There are approximately 30 workers at the work zone and additional 20 at off-site locations.
The worker trailer for this project is located on a barge.