Thirty Massachusetts Bridge Projects Currently Under Way or Ready to Go

Fri February 27, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams




Contractors and subcontractors around the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may have hope for multiple state highway and bridge projects as the Governor’s Accelerated Bridge Project (ABP) is now under way.

“We will have work for companies of all sizes. We will have jobs of all sizes for construction contractors. The jobs range from the $300 million Longfellow Bridge to much smaller bridge preservation jobs, ranging in the hundreds of thousands dollars,” said MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky. “We expect an array and many types of companies that will be bidding on the work.”

A total of 30 projects are ready for construction or under way as part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s Accelerated Bridge Program to reduce the Commonwealth’s backlog of structurally deficient bridges.

The $3 billion, eight-year program will expedite the repair and replacement of Massachusetts’s bridges and reduce — by at least 250 — the number of structurally deficient bridges by 2016. The commissioner said the program will create thousands of engineering and construction jobs (although she couldn’t put an exact figure on it) and, because of the way the funding will be accessed and borrowed, provide long-term savings in avoided inflation and deferred maintenance costs.

As of mid-January, according to MassHighway, the program has yielded:

• 25 MassHighway projects with approved construction contracts totaling $80.7 million,

• Five Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) projects totaling $23 million, and

• A total of 43 MassHighway Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) projects have been advertised.

The three-year plan ABP project list includes:

• A total of 192 MassHighway and local bridge projects along with preservation work on an additional 300 bridges, and

• A total of 29 DCR bridge projects along with preservation work on 50 additional bridges.

“The Executive Office of Transportation has made the Accelerated Bridge Program a top priority,” said James A. Aloisi Jr., Secretary of Transportation. “Governor Patrick wants to make a dramatic reduction in our backlog of structurally deficient bridges and we are committed to that goal.”

“This program takes an aggressive approach to a serious problem,” added Paiewonsky. “We are using the Accelerated Bridge Program as a laboratory of innovation to speed the delivery of first-class infrastructure to the citizens of Massachusetts.”

The 25 MassHighway bridge projects are spread across the Commonwealth.

Some examples include:

• Westborough — Lyons Street over Route 9 ($715,000)

• Attleboro — Interstate 95 ($2.7 million)

• Peabody — Interstate 95 ramps over Route 128 ($4.6 million)

• Chester — Maple Street over the West Branch of the Westfield River ($2.9 million)

• Huntington — Route 112 (Worthington Road) over the CSX Railroad and Westfield River ($1.9 million)

• Springfield — Route 83 (Longhill Street) over Interstate 91 and Route 5 over I-91 ($3.9 million).

• Middleborough-Raynham — Interstate 495 over the Taunton River ($2 million)

• Fall River — Highland Street over Route 24 ($1.7 million)

• Brockton — Route 123 (Belmont Street) over Route 24 ($3.4 million)

• Quincy — Hancock Street over Sagamore Street and MBTA ($846,000)

• Chicopee-West Springfield — Interstate 91 over the Connecticut River ($3.3 million)

• Agawam-Springfield — Route 5 over the Connecticut River ($6.8 million)

• Framingham — Edgell Road/Main Street over Route 9 ($610,000)

• Fall River-Somerset — Braga Bridge (I-195) over the Taunton River ($16.3 million)

As DCR’s work on its own bridge projects continues, the agency’s initial focus is on repairing and rehabilitating several of the historic and iconic bridges in the Charles River Basin. Under the governor’s program, these bridges, used by hundreds of thousands of vehicles each day, will remain safe and reliable for many future generations.

“The Charles River bridges are among the most cherished in the DCR parkway system, but they have been treated badly in the past,” said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “Thanks to the Accelerated Bridge Program, we will be able to make up for decades of neglect within a few short years.”

The five DCR projects under way include:

• Boston — Bowker Overpass ramp H (Storrow/Fenway) ($5 million)

• Boston — B.U. Bridge sidewalks ($2 million)

• Boston (Hyde Park) — River Street at Mother Brook ($3 million)

• Boston — Storrow Drive Tunnel interim repairs ($11.5 million)

• Everett-Medford — Woods Memorial interim repairs (Wellington) ($1.5 million)

A total of 543 MassHighway and DCR bridges are structurally deficient. Current funding levels would increase that number to nearly 700 structurally deficient bridges by 2016. The ABP will instead reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges to approximately 450.

The ABP Oversight Council established by legislation includes representatives from the Executive Office of Transportation, MassHighway, and DCR and is required to establish project criteria, approve projects, monitor progress, and report regularly to the legislature.

Pointing Contractors to Comm-Pass

The MassHighway commissioner pointed contractors and subcontractors seeking work to a Web site (www.comm-pass.com), where the jobs are posted.

“That is how we put up our advertisements, what you call ’letting’ contracts. We also notify contractors by email when putting things out to bid. We also notify an organization called Construction Industries of Massachusetts with weekly projects to be let and quarterly outlooks,” said Paiewonsky.

She added, however, that contractors must be pre-qualified to do the work, and that MassHighway has a pre-qualification process.

She assured the public that work will go on, despite recent startling state budgetary shortfalls, as Gov. Patrick was forced to enact more than $1 billion in cuts to the state budget. This is possible, Paiewonsky said, because the ABP money comes from a combination of federal highway funds and borrowed state bonds. Each source is independent of the state’s operating budget.

“We have not been told to slow down. In fact, we have been told to keep going. This work will create jobs and this is an investment in the economy to supply jobs. So far, we are not at all affected by cuts, and this program goes forward,” said Paiewonsky.

“The program meets a lot of public needs on a lot of different fronts,” she added. “It really is a great program from a public policy perspective, focusing on both short- and long-term needs and public safety, and it is coming at the right time in terms of the economy. We have a lot of construction ahead of us, and we certainly expect to significantly increase our funding with stimulus funds from the federal [government’s] stimulus package.”

Leading Example

for States

Paiewonsky said that her state has taken a bold step in repairing crumbling infrastructure, something other states want to emulate.

“I was talking to someone last week at the New York Department of Transportation, to see what they are doing with their stimulus funds. We try to keep up on the news of what other states are doing,” said the commissioner. “I think Massachusetts has certainly been a leader. The Accelerated Bridge Program really is putting Massachusetts out front in deciding to do something about it, in a systematic way. Other state officials have told me they wished their states had done the same thing.”

The program is financed using $1.1 billion in grant anticipation notes, which borrow against anticipated future federal funding and $1.9 billion in gas tax bonds to be repaid with existing gas tax revenues. It is one component of Gov. Patrick’s comprehensive package of transportation reforms to deliver high quality services in the most cost-efficient manner.

In May 2008, Gov. Patrick introduced the $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program to reduce the Commonwealth’s growing backlog of structurally deficient bridges.

The program is enabling the Commonwealth to improve and replace landmark bridges such as the Longfellow Bridge (known as the Salt & Pepper Bridge) between Cambridge and Boston, the Whittier Bridge in Amesbury and to make much needed repairs to hundreds of others. Long overdue investments in bridge preservation will extend the lives of bridges while spending taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way, eliminating both construction cost inflation and the expensive deterioration that comes with time.

The Federal Highway Administration estimated that road and bridge construction costs increase from 9 percent to 15 percent each year as a result of construction cost inflation alone. By completing projects sooner, the Commonwealth will avoid losing critical tax dollars to inflation.

This effort will be overseen by the Accelerated Bridge Program Oversight Council, which will closely monitor the progress of the agencies involved and keep the public informed about the results.

Old Structures

There are approximately 4,521 bridges in the Commonwealth, under the control of MassHighway, DCR or cities and towns. Safety inspections are completed on all bridges at least once every two years and unsafe bridges are closed immediately.

Bridges that show significant enough deterioration to warrant a structurally deficient rating are inspected more frequently. It is these bridges that are targeted for improvement under this program.

At the inception of the ABP in May 2008, inspectors deemed 543 bridges structurally deficient. Because the rate of deterioration has been higher than the rate at which bridges are repaired, the number of structurally deficient bridges would be expected to reach approximately 697 over the next eight years without the program.

Because the state has some of the oldest bridges in the nation, the lack of adequate investment, coupled with harsh New England weather conditions, makes it unsurprising that so many bridges are in need of repair. Some 61 percent of Massachusetts bridges were built prior to 1960, and 42 percent are between 40 and 60 years old.

The ABP will provide the latest information on project progress on its Web site at www.mass.gov/acceleratedbridges. CEG