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Meeting Held On State of Massachusetts' Bridges in Wake of Baltimore Accident

Thu March 28, 2024 - Northeast Edition
NBC10 Boston


Massachusetts continues to regularly inspect its bridges, highlighting that the more than 2-mi.-long cantilever-truss Tobin Bridge, built in 1950 to cross the Mystic River between Boston and Chelsea, was inspected as recently as a couple of months ago.
Photo courtesy of MassDOT
Massachusetts continues to regularly inspect its bridges, highlighting that the more than 2-mi.-long cantilever-truss Tobin Bridge, built in 1950 to cross the Mystic River between Boston and Chelsea, was inspected as recently as a couple of months ago.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is hoping to calm concerns about the state's infrastructure after the deadly collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland on March 26.

Gov. Maura Healey was supposed to be meeting with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on the same day but instead found herself offering the state's support over the Baltimore bridge tragedy, which she called "absolutely devastating and heartbreaking."

Healey also met with maritime and bridge experts later on March 26 to make sure the Commonwealth is following the proper safety protocols, while state transportation officials offered a briefing on bridge and infrastructure safety in light of the Baltimore mishap.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge tragedy occurred early in the morning when a container ship lost power and rammed into a support tower of the Interstate 695 bridge as it was trying to exit the Port of Baltimore, causing the structure to break up and plunge into the Patapsco River below. Several construction personnel and vehicles fell into the water, and rescuers were still in recovery mode as of the morning of March 27.

During an appearance on Boston's WGBH Public Radio", Healey said she was supposed to meet Tuesday morning with Moore, who was in town to be honored with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Award for Inspired Leadership but had to fly back "in the middle of the night" to attend to the Key Bridge calamity.

"I've been in touch with him, [and] I've offered him our support," she said. "My thoughts are with all of the victims and survivors — [everyone] affected by the tragedy."

Healey also praised Maryland first responders, who continued to search the river for survivors throughout the day. Authorities announced the night of March 26 that six missing construction workers are presumed dead, causing the rescue effort to transition to a recovery mission.

Lessons to Be Learned from Baltimore Accident

The governor said Massachusetts continues to regularly inspect its bridges, highlighting that the more than 2-mi.-long cantilever-truss Tobin Bridge, built in 1950 to cross the Mystic River between Boston and Chelsea, was inspected as recently as a couple of months ago.

She also noted that Massachusetts does not have the same level of cargo traffic as the Port of Baltimore.

"We used to, but much of that has changed," she noted.

Still, Healey said Massachusetts "needs to be proactive," in ensuring the safety of local ports and bridges and explained that after her radio interview she would be meeting with representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, MassDOT, the Massachusetts Port Authority, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in the wake of the Baltimore bridge collapse.

"I want to make sure we're having the conversation to make sure all of our protocols are where they need to be and we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our ports and bridges," she said.

NBC10 Boston noted that Massachusetts Maritime Academy cadets are taught that passing under bridges in massive ships is never easy and, as a result, spend a lot of time in a simulator, giving them first-hand experience before they even get on the water.

Leaders at the school told the Boston TV station that the findings behind the collapse of the Baltimore bridge will certainly be incorporated into future lessons, and possibly into the simulator, to help prepare the next generation of sailors and sea pilots.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu also commented on the Baltimore bridge tragedy at an event, calling it "unthinkable," adding that she called Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in the aftermath of the accident to express her support.

She said that while Boston has a lot of shipping coming in and out of the harbor, "it is all subject to pretty stringent regulations to avoid exactly this kind of situation."

"We are always hoping that we don't need to deploy the kinds of training and preparation that our first responders are prepared to deploy, but we are always ready for anything, although we continue to work so that we can have policies in place so that we don't ever have to have that situation happen."

After the meeting with Healey, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt told NBC10 Boston, "we are working together to ensure that we are prepared to mitigate any issues as they happen."

Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT's highway administrator, discussed bridge and port safety and infrastructure as well at the high-level meeting, noting that while half of the roughly 5,000 bridges that Massachusetts is responsible for go over water, only two have similar profiles to the Francis Scott Key Bridge: the Tobin Bridge and the Braga Bridge between Fall River and Somerset.

"When a bridge is found to have an unsafe element, we work to take immediate action," he noted, adding, "that's something we don't fool around with."

At least 644 bridges, or 12 percent of the total number of Massachusetts' bridges, are structurally deficient, Gulliver told NBC10 Boston, but he also pointed out that a designation of structural deficiency does not mean the bridge is unsafe, only that it requires more regular maintenance to stay operable.

Gulliver explained, too, that Massachusetts' system for guiding cargo ships in and out of its Boston port, which is smaller than Baltimore's, is apparently different than in Maryland. For one, Boston's ship pilots use tugboats that travel with ships the entire time they are in the harbor. Additionally, he said, Massachusetts ports do not see many ships that are as big as the one that hit the Baltimore bridge.

But if the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into what happened in Baltimore has any relevant findings for Massachusetts, Gulliver said, "they will inform us of what those findings are right away so that we can take appropriate action."




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