It’s a span of Route 1A over Bennington Street that hundreds of East Boston motorists drive over and under everyday without thinking much about it.
However, that seemingly innocuous stretch of highway could be more dangerous than you think.
Last week’s collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River outside of Seattle has turned the spotlight on what the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) deems ‘fracture critical’ bridges.
The I-5 section that came tumbling down after an oversized truck clipped the bridge’s steel truss was marked fracture critical by the FHWA and the section of Route 1A over Bennington Street in Day Square could be one freak accident away from catastrophe.
The span of Route 1A in Eastie is also deemed fracture critical. A fracture critical bridge is defined by the FHWA as a steel member in tension, or with a tension element, whose failure would probably cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.
Fracture critical bridges, of which there are a total of about 18,000 throughout the U.S., lack redundancy, which means that in the event of a steel member’s failure there is no path for the transfer of the weight being supported by that member to hold up the bridge. Therefore, failure occurs quickly as in the case of the I-35W Bridge collapse in Minnesota that killed 13 people and injured hundreds more during rush hour.
A failure of the Route 1A bridge in Eastie could potentially kill scores of people if it occurred during rush hour—a time when dozens of cars are stuck at the Neptune Road light below Route 1A and dozens more are traveling north and south above Day Square.
Over the years there has been serious talk and debate over the country’s aging infrastructure both at the federal and state levels.
Two weeks ago Senator Anthony Petruccelli and the Senate passed the senate’s version of the state’s Transportation Bill. The bill that was passed tries to find innovative ways to fund transportation expansion and improvements projects that addresses problems like the Route 1A span. Similar problems are plaguing bridges and highways all across the Commonwealth.
The bill passed in the senate dedicates more than $800 million in new revenues for transportation.
Many of the bridges and tunnels in Eastie are over 50 years old.
Back in December a 100 lb. wall panel in the Callahan Tunnel fell off the wall of the tunnel and landed in the road. The panels in the tunnel, which date back to the 1990s, are 9 ft. by 4 ft. and replaced older panels in order to give the tunnel a better look and reflect light for improved visibility in the tunnel for motorists.
After the panel fell, MassDOT was forced to shut down the Callahan so inspectors could perform a ‘pull test’ on the some 2,000 panels that line the tunnel.
After the inspections it was found that 117 panels did not pass the pull test and had to be removed.
A week after performing the pull test in the Callahan, MassDOT inspectors moved over to the Sumner Tunnel where they performed the same testing.
They found that 26 panels needed to come down due to corrosion. MassDOT officials then decided to remove all panels in the Callahan because the tunnel was due for an $12 million overhaul.
However, this wasn’t the first time Eastie’s bridge and tunnels posed a hazard for motorists.
In 2006, Milena Del Valle was killed after a section of ceiling concrete crushed her car in the I-90 Connector tunnel that leads to Logan International Airport in Eastie.
The accident forced U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano to draft legislation that required mandatory inspection of all highway tunnels—like the ones leading in and out of Eastie.
While the legislation directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum inspection requirements for bridges and tunnels and forced states to maintain an inventory of all highway tunnel inspection reports it did little to address the funding needed for the monumental task of repairing the some 18,000 bridges in jeopardy across the nation.