Thursday, August 09, 2007

Boston Beat: A Bridge Too Far...From Stable...

Spotlight on Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

Today in the theme of the I-35W Bridge, we move east to Boston to discuss a famous and historic structure which is nonetheless emblematic of the problems Minneapolis brought to the fore. Boston's Longfellow Bridge, also known as the Salt and Pepper Bridge (for its Salt & Pepper shaker-esque minarets), has become a visible example of this state's grotesque backlog of maintenance.

The Longfellow is arguably the most important single span between Boston and Cambridge. While several bridges carry cars and people between the two cities, it is the only one which carries cars, pedestrians, and the MBTA's Red Line. According to the Boston Herald, some 50,000 cars and 100,000 Red Line passengers cross the bridge daily.

The Longfellow has fallen on hard times. The deck, particularly under the tracks needs rehabilitation. The stone has been known to chip and God knows what work needs to be done to the piers that sit in the Charles River. Plans for repairs exceed $200 million. A fire in May under the Charles/MGH station have undoubtedly only complicated matters. The century-old bridge's last major rehab was in 1959, with some nominal work done in 2002. An ed-op piece in the Boston Globe, from which some of this entry's info was gleaned, was published on Longfellow's centennial, July 31, the day before the I-35W collapse.

is just the same as many deficient structures. In lean times, maintenance gets the axe. Legislators' are reluctant to spend the necessary money or take it from somewhere else. We need to make sure that the unnecessary high-level positions in the Turnpike Authority or the MBTA are well-endowed, but the structures they oversee? Not so much. UMASS is another great example. Sure physical plant is deteriorating, but God forbid we cut back on top-level management.

Returning to Boston, we see Longfellow's issues repeated in Storrow Drive. A tunnel in the Back Bay is in dire need of repair. The only options that get the job done quickly mandate traffic diversion onto city streets. God Forbid the Brahmans' face that kind of disturbance! However, had repairs been kept up, we would not even be having this conversation. Admittedly, Longfellow and Storrow Drive are both victims of the former Metropolitan District Commission a state entity that was engorged with patronage and corruption until finally being merged into the current Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2003. The DCR in fact cannot pay for rehabs of the Longfellow itself, instead needed to beg, borrow, steal form the Highway Dept.

The MBTA is even more guilty spending itself into massive debt on "station improvement projects" while the tracks and signals go to Hell. Sure the station is nice, but the ride is slow, late, and pathetic.

So as we return to Longfellow, we see that reconstruction is not even scheduled to begin for another three years. We are told that assessments on the piers need to be completed before any further work is done. Undoubtedly, the token competitive bidding process is partly responsible for the delay beyond that. Frankly, after Minneapolis and our state's wonderful work-to-the-lowest-bidder job on the Big Dig and its cave-in on that poor woman, our legislature should take a deep breath and just cut some fat (starting with themselves), and let us swallow the pill of fast-track bid. The current system is barely better than Halliburton-like no-bid so let's not get all over ourselves about fairness. We could potentially save some lives and get our infrastructure in order. We owe to ourselves and to the patriarchs of our transportation apparatus such as Longfellow.

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