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Crews removing loose strips on Longfellow Bridge

The decorative strips workers took off the Longfellow Bridge last night are 3 feet long and weigh 200 pounds each. The decorative strips workers took off the Longfellow Bridge last night are 3 feet long and weigh 200 pounds each. (EVAN RICHMAN/GLOBE STAFF)

Construction crews began removing scores of loose, 200-pound decorative strips last night from the side of the Longfellow Bridge, which connects Boston and Cambridge and spans the Charles River, a major waterway for boaters.

Age was the primary reason the siding loosened, said Wendy Fox, spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation. "These are loose pieces of steel that we don't want to have falling in the water."

The decorative strips, known as fascia coping, are 3 feet long and weigh 200 pounds each. There are strips the length of the bridge, but the loose ones being removed run along a 400-foot section of the bridge, which has come under more intense scrutiny in the aftermath of the Aug. 1 collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis.

That collapse brought the state of the nation's infrastructure to the forefront of national consciousness and prompted Massachusetts officials to announce inspections of about 586 structurally deficient bridges.

Fox said the loose siding was discovered because "we have people looking at that bridge all the time." She did not say whether the strips were in danger of falling soon or how many had been removed.

She added that no other parts of the bridge were considered imminently dangerous.

The removal of the fascia coping is scheduled to continue every Sunday through Thursday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. until Oct. 12. Police boats patrolled the Charles River waters below the bridge while work was done Wednesday.

A July 30 report from the Pioneer Institute detailed the destitute condition of the Longfellow Bridge, a steel-and-granite structure completed in 1908. The bridge supports the MBTA's Red Line operations and, according to MassHighway, carries 28,000 vehicles and 90,000 transit users a day.

An advisory cautions travelers to expect "minor traffic delays" while the work is being conducted.

The Longfellow Bridge is one of 187 bridges operated and maintained by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Pioneer Institute report found that these bridges were among the worst-maintained in the Commonwealth. State officials have long discussed moving all road and bridge oversight to the state's transportation agencies.

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