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Century-Old Bridge in Fall River on Borrowed Time

Wed March 08, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry



The old Brightman Street Bridge in Fall River, MA, will observe its 100th anniversary in 2006. But there may not be much of a celebration planned for it. In fact, the bridge will soon be demolished and replaced by a new one.

For just about all of the 20th century, drivers in Fall River have crossed the Taunton River via the drawbridge. But just as Brightman Street has always been a well-traveled thoroughfare, so is the river below it. The old bridge rises only 30 ft. (9.1 m) above the river, so the span has to be lifted for every small sailboat and large ship that goes though there.

As a result, vehicular traffic is often stopped during the day causing regular and lengthy backups along Brightman Street. It’s quite troublesome for a bridge that carries 45,000 vehicles a day.

The bridge also has a great deal of maintenance problems.

“It’s an old bridge and we are constantly doing work on it,” said John Raposo, district area construction engineer of the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway).

The new span is being built approximately .25 mi. south of the present one, so traffic will continue to cross the old one until the new one is finished in 2010.

There are actually four different contracts involved in the $174.1-million project, one of which has not even gone to bid yet. D.W. White Construction of Acushnet, MA, finished work on the approach roadway embankment and wetland mitigation in 2001. The price tag on that work was $2.1 million.

More recently, construction was done on the substructure, including several pier protection cells and a fender system, completed late last year by Jay Cashman Inc. of Boston ($33 million). Modern Continental of Cambridge, MA, is currently constructing the two main bascule piers in the middle of the river on a $34-million contract. The largest contract has yet to go out to bid. The remaining superstructure and completion of the bascule piers, along with control house and adjoining roadway and ramp structure will cost $105 million.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the project came when the bascule piers, measuring 144 by 84 by 17 ft. (43.6 by 25 by 5 m) were filled with cement. In all, it required 7,200 cu. yds. (5,472 cu m), of cement but it had to be done in an abbreviated timeframe of just 50 hours for each pier.

Dan Kelley, project manager of Modern Continental, explained that each one goes 50 ft. (15 m) above and below the surface and were located approximately 500 ft. (152 m) from the shore. This work had to be done for each of the two piers.

Two Putzmeister pumps (mounted on footings and controlled remotely) were used during each of the pours, which fed evenly spread tremie pipes. That way, the concrete could be placed in 17-ft. (5 m) tremie seals. Each pipe had to stay approximately 2 ft. (.6 m) below the surface of the cement to keep it from being contaminated by water. Tremie pipes measuring 60 ft. (18.1 m) long were used to reach the bottom of the tremie seal.

“The two tremie placements took approximately 50 hours each, but required months of setup and planning,” Kelley said. “This was clearly the most challenging portion of this contract.”

Most of that portion of the work was done with cranes such as an American 1500 and a Manitowoc, as well as a Wiarth drilling machine. Trevi Icos of Boston drilled the shaft and Regis Steel of Braintree, MA, provided the reinforced steel.

Although Modern Continental and Jay Cashman have different contracts, they have been working together to balance the different segments of the work. While one has been working at its own assignment, it has often gotten in the way of the other’s work, so the schedules have often overlapped.

Jay Cashman built the cofferdams for the piers, so workers from that company constantly had to deal with the water flow in the Taunton River.

“It [the Taunton River] has a pretty good current,” said Michael Bissonnette, project manager of Jay Cashman. “It is six knots on big tide days. When the tide is outgoing, it can get pretty hairy. You have to time your moves. If you don’t plan your moves, you can have problems.”

Raposo of MassHighway agreed.

“The water flow depends on the day. There are some calm days and some rough days. The cofferdam is designed for that,” he said.

Cashman, which used equipment such as Manitowoc 4000 cranes, did much of its work with the help of Tucker-Roy Marine and Salvage of New Bedford, MA.

When the bridge is completed, it will be twice as large as the old structure. The design calls for it to stand 60 ft. (18 m) high and 200 ft. (60.6 m) wide. With that much height, it will make quite a difference when boats such as coal ships travel the Taunton.

“They don’t have much of a clearance and they have actually hit the piers,” said Raposo.

The new bridge will have two lanes traveling in each direction, along with a bike path and a 10-ft. (3 m) sidewalk.

A job such as this one always comes with things that slow down the progress of the work and this one is no different.

“There are always challenges,” said Raposo. “Because it is exploratory, with things such as borings, you never know what you are going to hit.” CEG