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Worries abound as Longfellow Bridge detours set to begin

Posted by Brock Parker  July 11, 2013 08:33 AM

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Traffic changes and detours at the Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge and Boston will begin Saturday, July 20. Photo by Brock Parker.

Representatives from Massachusetts General Hospital and several other large institutions are raising concerns about traffic changes and detours scheduled to begin in less than two weeks for the rehabilitation of the Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge and Boston.

Beginning July 20, transportation officials are planning to close the bridge to Cambridge-bound vehicles and detour them to the Craigie Bridge—a detour that is expected to continue through September of 2014.

Boston-bound vehicles will be shifted to one lane on the east side of the Longfellow Bridge during the first stage of construction, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and MBTA Red Line service will be impacted on 25 weekends during the project, which is expected to last three-and-a-half years.

longfellow720.JPGBut at a meeting held at MIT Wednesday night to review the traffic plans and construction at the bridge, representatives from Massachusetts General Hospital, TD Garden and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, asked the design and build team for the project to reconsider their plan not to allow traffic to travel in both directions over the bridge during the project.

“The issue we still feel strongly about is two-way traffic on the bridge,” said Joe Crowley, senior manager of parking and ambassador services at MGH. “We believe a two-way traffic plan would be much better for residents of both Cambridge and Boston.”

Chris Maher, the vice president for the Boston Garden Development Corporation, said he is also in favor of traffic being allowed to travel in both directions over the bridge, and expressed concern about the detours are planned. He reminded representatives from the White-Skanska-Consigli design and build team that pop star Justin Bieber will have a concert at TD Garden the weekend the detour begins and the Yankees will be in Boston to play the Red Sox.

Bill Shea, a project executive for White-Skanska-Consigli, said two-way traffic is being looked at as a contingency plan to manage the traffic. But the project managers are ready to move ahead with their plan to detour Cambridge-bound traffic around the Longfellow Bridge. The vehicles will instead be routed from Charles Circle to Leverett Circle, then traveling on Monsignor O’Brien Highway to Land Boulevard in Cambridge.

Representatives from White-Skanska-Consigli said they are installing 23 new cameras in Boston to monitor the traffic around the bridge, and Boston, Cambridge and State Police will assist with intense monitoring of traffic flows in the first two weeks of the project. After that, the monitoring will be decreased, but will continue.

Emergency response, as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic will be maintained on the bridge during construction, according to the state Department of Transportation.

MBTA Red Line service, which travels the bridge between Cambridge’s Kendall Square and Charles Circle in Boston, will continue throughout the project, but buses will replace trains in the area on 25 weekends. Boston-bound traffic will traffic will also be detoured around Longfellow Bridge to the Craigie Bridge on those 25 weekends.

The $255-million construction project is part of the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program and will address the 107-year-old bridge’s structural deficiencies and upgrade its structural capacity. Even the bridge’s four towers, sometimes called the “salt and pepper shakers,” will be dismantled, refurbished, and rebuilt, said Mark Ennis, the design project manager.

The traffic detours for the work come as construction has already reduced vehicle traffic to one lane in each direction over a second key bridge spanning the Charles River, the Anderson Memorial Bridge between Harvard Square and Allston.

The Walter J. Reid Overpass along Memorial Drive over the rotary at the BU Bridge also closed in April for what was to be a six-month construction project. But Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said an effort is being made to re-open the overpass as soon as July 19, the day before the Longfellow Bridge detours are set to begin.

The Longfellow Bridge project will eventually lead to a permanent reduction in the number of traffic lanes headed from Boston to Cambridge over the bridge from two to one, which will allow more space for wider sidewalks and bike lanes.

During the 25 weekend disruptions to Red Line train service, MBTA customers will ride buses between the Kendall/MIT and Park Street stations in Boston, with bus stops at the Charles MGH stop included.

Shea said five weekend disruptions of the Red Line service are expected this year.

Mary Leach, the director of public affairs at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said she also has concerns about what will become of traffic in the area.

“Things are stopped in front of the hospitals already,” Leach said.

Crowley and MIT campus planner Kelley Brown urged the design and build team and state officials to release the traffic management plan for the project so other stakeholders in the area can review it.

Brown said he hopes fears about the plan are not born out.

“We’re really all going to have to kind of work together a little better,” Brown said.

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