State Hopes Changes at Rutherford, Cambridge Will Help Gilmore Bridge

One of the most frustrating pinch-points for local traffic in the Town has become the Gilmore Bridge – a much more critical corridor these days as more residents look to travel to work in Cambridge.

That commute, while just minutes without traffic, can last an eternity coming into the Town and getting out of it – and also interfering with those simply trying to get by the daily congestion.

The frustrations with the Gilmore have often surfaced during meetings about the reconstruction of Rutherford Avenue, even though that adjacent bridge is not in any way part of the Rutherford project. That said, it plays a great role in the traffic congestion that figures into the Rutherford corridor – and a piece that few have been able to address.

During the Oct. 29 Rutherford meeting, Tera Lally of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council made the point that the Gilmore has become a very important route for Charlestown, but one that is getting worse and not better.

“From 7:30 to 10: 30 a.m. it’s backed up from Whole Foods to Cambridge,” she said. “Coming back, you can wait seven light cycles as people try to turn right onto Rutherford.”

State transportation officials noted that they have a robust plan to repair and maintain the Gilmore Bridge, and that has played out over the last two summers as repairs have gone on so the bridge can be safe. However, a spokeswoman for MassDOT said congestion on the Bridge is related to traffic on the roads surrounding it.

“Any major project for the Gilmore is going to need to be sequenced around GLX, Rutherford Avenue, and North Washington Street Bridge replacement which all influence traffic over the Gilmore,” said Jacque Goddard, of MassDOT. “As far as congestion goes, any project on the Gilmore is unlikely to change congestion. The Gilmore Bridge is not the main pinch-point causing congestion – rather the connecting roadways on either side of the structure are congested, which in turn slows traffic over the Gilmore.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said the Gilmore Bridge is a conversation that could last all day long – a consequence once again of development around the edges of Charlestown in the last five years.

“I don’t believe the Gilmore Bridge can be summed up in one conversation,” he said. “There are short-term and long-term implications affecting traffic. Right now much of the morning traffic has been caused by long overdue maintenance on the bridge, as well as the re-routing of traffic due to the closing of the Washington Street-Green Line underpass on the Somerville border. Long-term, we need a comprehensive, regional transportation plan to mitigate the seemingly unbridled development on Charlestown’s borders. Although Kendall square, Assembly Row and North Station seemed to have popped up overnight these developments were 20 to 30 years in the making. ‘We have built it- they have come.’”

Resident Dan Jaffe, who has long been interested in brainstorming about traffic conundrums in the Town, has presented to the community an interesting plan that he believes could help relieve traffic for Charlestown on the Gilmore – particularly coming in from Cambridge.

That plan involves creating a new ramp that would lead from the Gilmore over an existing roadway below and feeding onto the Rt. 1/Tobin Bridge onramp next to the Potato Famine Memorial.

“Getting into Town in the afternoon is a disaster because you’re stuck in the boondoggle of people trying to get to Rt. 1 North or 93 North,” he said. “I’m hoping if they really want to relieve the northbound lane on the Bridge, they will look at building a new lane. It would be the same function, but adding a couple of girders and a deck. There is some investment, but you get a lot more from it.”

He said the goal for the Gilmore and any such project should be to keep traffic away from Charlestown, which his suggestion seems to do.

“It’s so much easier and directs all the traffic away from Charlestown,” he said. “It’s a win, win, win. I can’ see it not happening…The trick is to move the traffic away from us or hide it. It’s not going to disappear.”

State Rep. Ryan said suggestions like that, as well as others, might be best laid out during the upcoming PLAN Charlestown process. He said that process can help with the booming development on the edges of Charlestown, mitigating the congestion that comes with those developments.

“The planning process we have embarked upon in Charlestown is long overdue,” he said. “The BPDA is correct in focusing primarily on our borders at first and then working in. The impacts we are feeling in Charlestown are the result of successful master plans produced and implemented by our neighbors over decades. We are at a critical juncture. A spirited community process can simultaneously take advantage of this growth while also protecting the heart of our neighborhood.”

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