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MassDOT Launches Last of Five Mega-Bridge Projects

Crews attempt to pull off the Impastable on spaghetti ramps past their prime.

Tue December 17, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Pardon the pun, but the nine spaghetti ramps have pasta their prime and effectiveness.

MassDOT has launched the latest and last of Gov. Deval Patrick’s five mega bridge projects, the removal of the viaduct and bridge spaghetti ramps that twist and turn off the Braga Bridge, just under the downtown center of Fall River, Mass.

More than 100 people in the Fall River area attended the DOT public hearing detailing the project on Sept. 24. General construction on the estimated $197 million project began in October.

From Ramps to Roads

Officially called the Route 79/Braga Bridge improvement project, but nicknamed the spaghetti ramp removal project, the three-year job is one of the five largest projects of the Gov. Patrick administration’s Accelerated Bridge Program, an 8-year, two-term, $3 billion effort to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts.

MassDOT said that safety, access and aesthetics near the City Pier area of Fall River will be improved when the the Route 79 viaduct, an archaic and twisting 1960s bi-level structure of rusted steel in serious disrepair, is removed and replaced with a new surface roadway that combines Route 79 and Davol Street, a critical artery leading into the center of the city.

In addition, the nine spaghetti ramps connecting Route 79 and Interstate 195 will be rebuilt and two new roadways, The Water Street Connector and Milliken Connector, will improve local connections to the waterfront, which sees thousands of visitors to the five U.S. Naval warships that fill Fall River’s famous Battleship Cove. Pedestrian and bicycle safety will be enhanced along Interstate 195, through the addition of three signalized intersections on Route 79, wider sidewalks, bike lanes and a shared-use path.

According to MassDOT press secretary Sara Lavoie, Milliken Boulevard is under construction to better accommodate traffic during the interchange improvement project. General project construction accelerates through the fall of 2013 and full beneficial use of Route 79 and the Interstate 195 ramps is set for completion in fall 2016.

Work on the Braga Bridge — the third-of-a-mile bridge that connects Fall River with Somerset, Mass., spanning the Taunton River — will include necessary structural steel repairs, cleaning and painting. The ramps start at the eastern end of this bridge, and the job, which will improve the bridge’s structural integrity and appearance, is set for completion in the summer of 2016. Lanes are currently reduced on the Braga to allow for bridgework.

Major Joint Venture

On June 19, the MassDOT board of directors approved the award of a $197 million design/build contract to Barletta Heavy Industries and O&G Industries in a Joint Venture to complete the Route 79/Braga Bridge Project. Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) leads the design team.

Founded in 1914, Barletta is celebrating its 100-year anniversary with this impressive mega project. The Barletta series of companies, headquartered in Canton, Mass., is in its 4th generation of family ownership and management.

Barletta Heavy Division Inc. constructs roads, highways, bridges, airports, tunnels, public transportation projects, railroad, light rail tracks, landscaping, environmental remediation, site work and utility outlets.

Its sister company, Barletta Engineering Corp., constructs water and sewage treatment facilities; gas-fired and renewable energy power plants; green roofs; and commercial buildings.

With about 90 people on staff, Barletta also uses more than 300 pieces of equipment. With a century-long reputation for safely completing projects to specification, Barletta is famed for meeting time and budget constraints, according to the company.

Barletta’s joint venture partner, O&G Industries, is a privately-owned company in its third generation of family management. Headquartered in Torrington, Conn., O&G is celebrating its 90th anniversary with the Route 79 project. According to its Web site, the firm has grown to become one of the largest and most diversified construction materials and services companies in the Northeast.

O&G’s services include building construction (construction management, design/build, general contracting and program management); heavy civil construction (roads, bridges, water and waste treatment facilities and power plants); and construction materials (process gravel/stone, concrete, asphalt, masonry and architectural stone).

O&G has a professional staff of more than 200, and more than 1000 employees.

According to MassDOT, the interchange improvement is a design/build project, which means that final design elements will be completed in packages that will be released for construction as they are reviewed and approved.

Design/build allows construction to begin almost immediately on critical elements of the project. MassDOT will schedule periodic public meetings prior to major construction milestones and traffic pattern shifts. Lavoie said that MassDOT will be especially sensitive to the importance of minimizing construction impact and maintaining access to the waterfront area for residents, businesses and visitors to Fall River.

Access to key waterfront area businesses and key attractions will be maintained at all times, including Battleship Cove, Heritage State Park, Gates of the City and Community Boating. The design/build team will work with the town of Somerset to minimize impacts related to the Braga Bridge repairs over the Taunton River.

Spaghetti Circles the Water

Three areas within the Route 79/Interstate 195 interchange currently exhibit vehicular safety issues partly as a result of substandard roadway geometry, said Lavoie. Two areas are weave sections and one is a merge junction. The project will make changes to improve these areas and address traffic safety problems.

In addition, time has taken a toll on the viaduct and ramps, which include 111 spans stretching 8,700 ft (2,651.8 m). Currently, 11 smaller bridges within the interchange are structurally deficient and need rehabilitation.

The project removes the old Route 79 viaduct, and replaces it with a new surface roadway that combines Route 79 and Davol Street. The Route 79 viaduct and ramps were built in 1965 as part of construction of the interchange with Route 195

“The nine spaghetti ramps connecting Route 79 and Interstate 195 will be rebuilt and two new roadways [Water Street Connector and Milliken Connector] will improve local connections,” said Lavoie.

Most of the ramps connecting Route 79 to Interstate 195, Route 138 and local streets will be replaced in more or less the same location, according to Lavoie, so the proposed project will not open land for development.

The proposed project design evolved from a task force convened by MassDOT comprised of local and regional stakeholders to examine alternatives to address the interchange deficiencies, including removing the viaduct. After studying more than 12 conceptual alternatives, MassDOT determined that one alternative best addresses the project’s purpose and need, while incorporating community interests to the greatest extent possible: Removing elevated Route 79 south of Cedar Street and replacing it with a surface street that will combine Route 79 north and southbound traffic with Route 138 and Davol Street traffic.

“The new at-grade roadway will be combined with Davol Street, which is actually one level above ground level,” said Lavoie. “The project will use staged construction in order to maintain traffic through the interchange. Alternative routes to the regional roadway system will be identified to minimize traffic through the interchange. The construction sequence of various elements of the project, as well as some temporary ramp connections, will allow traffic to be shifted so that the viaduct can be removed.”

Lavoie said that minor amounts of private property right-of-way takings and or easements will be needed to build structures such as retaining walls.

“A portion of the Southern Union Company property at the rear of Anawan Street will be taken to build the Water Street Connector. Two complete takings will be required, but these are small vacant or undeveloped parcels [of land],” said Lavoie.

Building materials in the connector job will include precast concrete, mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls and structural steel.

The condition of the infrastructure, and the opportunity to improve multimodal access and enhance economic development, made the Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvements Project an excellent candidate for the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program, according to MassDOT.

This is the fifth and final Mass. megaproject to start construction. The other four are underway: the Burns Bridge in Worcester-Shrewsbury; Fore River Bridge in Quincy-Weymouth; the Longfellow Bridge; and the Whittier Bridge/I-95 over the Merrimack River in Amesbury-Newburyport

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