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Longfellow Bridge work

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The Longfellow Bridge refurbishing project, expected to cost $70 million, may require motor vehicle lane reductions to accommodate temporary tracks for Red Line trains. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

On (temporary) track for Longfellow Bridge

By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff | February 18, 2005

State transportation officials are considering an unprecedented solution to refurbish the Longfellow Bridge while keeping the historic, but crumbling, span open to both motor vehicles and Red Line trains.

The plan would take trains off the tracks running along the center of the bridge and put them on temporary rails built on the innermost lanes normally used by cars and trucks.

Inbound trains from Cambridge to Boston would run in the left inbound traffic lane, while outbound trains would run in the left outbound traffic lane. Cars and trucks would be restricted to the right lanes.

The temporary realignment, the first time something like it would be tried in the state, would allow construction crews to replace corroding steel supports in the tracks in the center of the span while maintaining full transit service to the 90,000 people using the Red Line each day.

But reducing motor vehicle traffic to a single lane in each direction would also cut the vehicular capacity of the bridge, which is crossed by 28,000 cars and trucks a day.

''We're not stopping the Red Line," said Massachusetts Highway Commissioner John Cogliano, pointing out that it is used by roughly three times as many transit riders as drivers. ''But it's possible we may need to take out two lanes of the vehicular traffic to accommodate the rehabilitation of the Longfellow Bridge."

Red Line cars would be separated from car and truck traffic by concrete barriers and other safety equipment. MassHighway officials would not say exactly how long the temporary tracks would be needed, but the realignment is expected to last at least several months.

Reconfiguring the bridge as part of the $70 million refurbishing project is ''a likely option that would happen," Cogliano said.

But Michael H. Mulhern, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said another idea for accommodating the construction is shutting down transit service across the bridge at 9 p.m. on weeknights and all day on weekends and replacing it with bus service.

A Cogliano spokeswoman said that while the bus plan is an option, it would not be necessary if the tracks are relocated.

''Red Line service needs to be maintained, which means that the construction method and phasing need to be carefully thought out," Mulhern said. ''I think if it were easy, this bridge would be rehabilitated by now."

Even when the work in the center of the bridge is done and the transit line is moved back to its normal tracks, drivers would probably face disruptions.

Crews would have to replace the supports and decking on the outer edges of the bridge, probably requiring two-way traffic on each side of the bridge as the opposite side is refurbished.

The bridge, which is named for Boston poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was built by the Boston Transit Commission and opened on Aug. 3, 1906.

It is famous not only because it offers dramatic views of Boston to both pedestrians and drivers, but also because its four towers give it a unique appearance among Charles River crossings.

Those towers have also given it a nickname, the ''salt-and-pepper" bridge, because of the towers' resemblance to salt and pepper shakers.

The bridge was last rehabbed in the 1950s, and today ''it's literally falling, piece by piece, into the Charles," Douglas I. Foy, secretary of the Office of Commonwealth Development, recently told a housing group.

The repair timetable remains unclear. The state recently concluded a $400,000 assessment of the bridge's condition.

Not only did it find that the steel supports have been corroded by rain, melting snow, and road salt, but that the decking needs repairs and concrete needs resealing.

''The bridge is safe, but there's just the appropriate time to do it and now is the time to plan it and then get to work," Cogliano said.

The next step is to complete 25 percent of the design for the rehab work. That will probably be done by August or September 2006.

Once that is completed, the state will face a critical decision: Do the remaining 75 percent of design work and then bid the construction, a process that could take four to five years, or proceed with design-build construction. The latter would allow crews to start preliminary work at the same time engineers are drafting the final design. Such simultaneous work could reduce construction time by as much as half.

The state recently used design-build for the first time when it expanded Route 3 from Route 128 to the New Hampshire border. Last year the Legislature authorized its use for all projects costing more than $5 million.

When Governor Mitt Romney authorized the Longfellow bridge project in March 2003, he said it would probably cost $70 million, but that price is expected to grow as the design process proceeds.

The bridge is owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, but construction will be handled by MassHighway, in consultation with the MBTA.

''We're interested in preserving the look and feel to the bridge," said Stephen R. Pritchard, acting commissioner of the Conservation and Recreation Department.

''The challenge is to do that in a way that also brings in the 21st-century traffic management, and that we build a structure that really survives for the next 100 years or so."

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From The Boston Globe

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LeTaureau    0

I didnt realize the bridge was in such bad condition. I work in an office builiding right next to this on the Cambridge side of the Charles. I'll be able to post pictures once work begins, I've got a great view of the bridge heading into the Boston side.

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Cotuit    0

I didnt realize the bridge was in such bad condition.  I work in an office builiding right next to this on the Cambridge side of the Charles.  I'll be able to post pictures once work begins, I've got a great view of the bridge heading into the Boston side.

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That'd be great. :thumbsup:

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