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State acts on missing bridge bolts

Daily inspections of structure ordered

The Massachusetts Highway Department has directed workers to conduct daily inspections of the pedestrian walkway on the temporary Fore River bridge after it was discovered that some bolts holding parts of the pathway to its supporting structure were missing or loose.

After MassHighway was alerted to the situation, spokeswoman Judith Forman checked with agency staff members, and said traffic vibrations had caused the bolts to loosen. She added that the structure, which carries Route 3A between Quincy and Weymouth, requires regular inspections. She said the Middlesex Corp., which is responsible for maintaining the bridge until next year, examined the structure on Monday and replaced any missing or loose bolts.

"Under no circumstance would we leave open an unsafe bridge for public use," Forman said.

MassHighway has instructed staff members to walk the bridge's pedestrian path daily, collect debris, and notify the contractor of any situation requiring immediate attention.

Bob Mabardy, executive vice president of the Middlesex Corp., declined to comment on the findings of his company's inspection or the missing and loose bolts. Mabardy said his company was working with officials from the bridge's manufacturer, Acrow Corp., to address the situation. The $53 million vertical-lift bridge, designed to be dismantled once a permanent replacement span is completed, opened late last year.

"Ultimately, we're responsible," he said.

On Tuesday, a Globe examination of the bridge found that the missing bolts had been replaced.

Before Middlesex's inspection this week, however, there were numerous holes that were missing bolts and circled with white paint, according to the Globe's examination. In some of the panels, some of the replacement bolts were smaller than the original hex-head bolts.

The temporary span is made of panels held together by 10,000 panel pins and 60,000 structural bolts, according to information on Acrow Corp.'s website. The structural bolts are larger than those found missing or loose.

The loose bolts on the bridge were noticed earlier this month by a reporter, who decided to take a closer look. He found 18 three-quarter-inch bolts that fasten the pathway's metal panels to the structure were missing; 81 similar bolts were visibly loose and could spin freely in the panel hole; and three bolts were lying on the walkway, sheared in half and with rust stains on the freshly exposed metal.

Construction on the bridge began in 1999. The bridge weighs about 10,000 tons, is 2,500 feet long, and is intended to last up to 15 years. About 45,000 cars cross the bridge every day.

The former Route 3A drawbridge, which was constructed in the 1930s, was shut down last year because of increasing deterioration. Initially, state officials had hoped to rehabilitate the permanent bridge, but studies concluded that wasn't possible. So, the temporary bridge was built.

MassHighway expects to take over responsibility for the maintenance of the temporary bridge on March 15, the contract completion date, Forman said. The remaining work includes installation of navigation lighting and additional storage racks for replacement ropes for the lift section. The ropes are to be stored in a maintenance building under the temporary bridge.

Quincy City Councilor Francis X. McCauley said he was unaware of the missing and loose bolts, but said they raise concerns about the bridge's integrity.

"This could be serious . . . we should be very careful to keep an eye on it," McCauley said.

Globe Correspondent Joe Berkeley uses the Fore River bridge frequently in his commute between Hull and Boston.

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