-By John Lynds
Nearly two years into the project to replace the aging Chelsea Street drawbridge in East Boston with a new vertical-lift bridge and everything has been going smooth as can be according to project consultant John Vitagliano.
Vitagliano was at Monday night’s Orient Heights Neighborhood Council to remind residents that the old bridge over the Chelsea Creek will officially close on June 1 to traffic and continue to be closed until December 1.
The next phase of the project and nearly six months of complete closure will allow for the old bridge to be demolished and the new span that will connect Eastie to Chelsea to be erected.
“We are still on schedule and if we continue at this pace the project should be completed by January 2012, a month ahead of the deadline we set back when the project began,” said Vitagliano.
The oil tankers currently passing through the existing narrow 93 foot wide channel is the widest allowed at present and will be replaced by new larger, more efficient tankers as a result of the channel widening that will accompany the new bridge.
“The larger tankers will benefit local motorists because they will be able to deliver more fuel per vessel, meaning a reduction in required openings for both the Chelsea Street and McCardle (Meridian Street) Bridges,” said Vitagliano.
Visible from dozens of points throughout Eastie and Chelsea, the set of steel trusses that will hold the bridge are done on both the Eastie and Chelsea side. Once complete the bridge will be a impressive 200 ft. structure that will tower over the Chelsea Creek.
“The nighttime closures have been extremely successful with very little impact on local motorists and the communities,” said Vitagliano.
The weekend closures have allowed the construction team to shorten the construction phase by over a month.
The purpose of this four month construction phase is to provide for the erection of the four large vertical support towers of the new bridge. They are about 200 ft. high and have been shipped up by barge from Florida.
The 73-year-old structurally-deficient Chelsea Street Bridge will be replaced with a new state-of-the-art drawbridge.
A few years ago, U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano was able to secure funding for the project in the federal transportation bond bill. In the last two weeks, the federal government granted the state the authority to spend $437.9 million on transportation projects through federal highway funds, with $153.2 million of that funding committed to “shovel-ready” projects.
Last year, the Patrick Administration put the first eight recovery projects out to bid, dedicating an estimated total of approximately $30 million for infrastructure improvements in every region of the state.
The Chelsea Street Bridge was one of these projects.
The Chelsea Street Bridge project involves the replacement with a truss-type structure that spans 450 feet and will provide 175 feet of vertical clearance when raised. The new bridge and approach roadway match the footprint of the existing bridge and will provide for four lanes of traffic (two in each direction) and two pedestrian sidewalks. Approach roadways will be reconstructed to meet existing local streets and a complete warning signal and gate system is included in the project.
The project will address long-standing issues caused by the narrow passageway used by oil tankers that resulted in accidents. Since 1972, there have been 133 incidents in which ships, tugs or barges have struck the bridge. The new bridge has an environmental as well as a safety component, as the reduced potential for collisions will diminish the threat of oil spills. In June 2000, a tanker collision spilled 50,000 gallons of fuel oil, closing the waterway and delaying aviation fuel deliveries for three days.
The warning gate and bridge traffic signal operations will be coordinated with the Central Avenue/Marginal Street/Eastern Avenue intersection in Chelsea to control traffic flow during bridge openings.