According to the unscientific online poll at DotNews.com, Morrissey Boulevard/Beades Bridge is the fifth-worst "traffic nightmare" in Dorchester. Don't expect traffic to clear up this spring, either. The MDC has announced that bridge repairs will take longer than expected, keeping traffic restrictions in effect until March 2003.
The John J. Beades drawbridge, which goes over the channel between Dorchester Bay and Savin Hill Bay, was built in the 1930s and has been its current six-lane form since the late 50s. According to the MDC, the bridge "been in continual operation since first opening." Residents may feel like the bridge has been under continual construction, too.
Beades Bridge has often needed repairs - MDC records indicate $1.3 million spent between 1995 and 1999 to keep the bridge operational - but the current bridge work began in the spring of 2001. Under the original project schedule, all six traffic lanes would have been reopened by April 2002.
Now all six lanes will reopen in March 2003. The MDC promises that two inbound lanes will be open for the morning commute, and two outbound lanes for the evening rush hour. The project should be completed in April 2003.
Why the delay?
The bridge has been in use for 80 years, resulting in inevitable wear and tear, and the marine conditions of its coastal location have taken a toll. It also seems that the MDC underestimated the amount of repairs the bridge would need. According to a recent MDC project update, Beades Bridge was inspected before the repair project began, but because of the way the bridge was built, inspectors couldn't see the entire bridge while it was in one piece and being used. After taking the bridge apart, the MDC noticed "significant unforeseen problems in alignment, deteriorated materials, and excessive wear." Fixing all the problems requires new, unique bridge parts that must be special-ordered. In addition, the project has been complicated by Coast Guard requirements due to the bridge's waterside location.
The bridge's poor condition should have come as no surprise to the MDC. In a report published in 1998, the MDC said "the bridge has deteriorated to such a degree that rehabilitation is not practical and full replacement of the bridge is required." In 1999, State Rep. Martin Walsh asked to inspect the bridge with an MDC engineer, and raised questions about visibly disintegrating bridge parts. At that time, Rep. Walsh and even the MDC seemed to lean towards replacing the bridge, a project that would have taken three years. "I don't want my parents driving over the bridge when it collapses," said Walsh at the time, "I feel the MDC should address this."
Bill Walczak, vice president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association, still agrees with the 1999 assessment. "The net result is that we're spending millions of dollars to repair a bridge that should be replaced," said Walczak.
The MDC "opted to repair the bridge due to funding," according to MDC spokesperson Jay Lachance. Beades Bridge is a complicated structure, said Lachance, and "everything needs to fit together like a puzzle." Since the bridge's beams aren't straight, each piece needs to be individually sent out for repairs. Replacing the entire bridge would have cost about $30 million, while the current renovations will cost about $7 million (since the bridge repairs are a work in progress, said Lachance, this number could change). The MDC recognizes that this is a "sensitive project" due to car traffic on the bridge and boat traffic in the bays, he said.
In late March and early April, the MDC spoke to the Popes Hill Civic Association and the Columbia/Savin Hill Civic Association about the new project timeline.
"Most of the community was understanding," said Rep. Walsh. "I don't think it's going to have a drastic impact on the neighborhood."
The extension of the repairs is an inconvenience that will slow down traffic, said Walsh, but "it had to be done."
The Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association's Bill Walczak had harsher words for the project.
It "is another example of the disaster that the state budget crisis brings to Massachusetts," said Walczak, claiming that state tax cuts have brought about the neglect of other projects such as downtown public transit improvements, bike paths, sound barriers along the Expressway, and repairs to other bridges including the Longfellow Bridge.
The MDC's Lachance disagrees, "State cuts have nothing to do with it."
For more information about the Beades Bridge renovation, call the MDC's Community Affairs office at (617) 727-5144, ext. 530.