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Bill to fix seven key bridges

Lawmakers back Patrick's proposal

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Matt Carroll
Globe Staff / May 18, 2008

Seven area bridges classifed "structurally deficient" would be repaired or replaced if a bill filed last week by Governor Deval Patrick, and backed by leaders in both the House and Senate, is passed.

The bridges - three in Quincy and others in Brockton, Middleborough-Raynham, Milton, and Randolph - are among 250 to 300 spans statewide slated for repair under the governor's plan.

The bridges have been deemed structurally deficient because of decades of neglect, according to the state. That does not necessarily mean that the bridges are unsafe or at risk of collapse, officials say, but rather that they need to be monitored or repaired. There are 500 such bridges in Massachusetts.

The bill answers criticism that the state has been slow or negligent in repairing and maintaining bridges. In August, the Pioneer Institute, a conservative Boston think tank, released a report documenting a lack of funding for transportation infrastructure.

That same week, a bridge in Minneapolis classified as structurally deficient collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 and spurring closer scrutiny of bridge problems in Massachusetts and nationally.

If the bridge upgrade outlined by Patrick goes ahead, it would be expected to generate thousands of construction jobs.

The Fore River Bridge in Quincy was one of five bridges in the state labeled a major repair project by the governor's office. A temporary bridge to replace the span was built about five years ago. The estimated cost of a new bridge is $150 million, with current plans calling for a new bridge by 2020. The bill would accelerate construction of the new bridge, although there is no firm timetable.

The other bridges in Quincy are the Neponset River bridge and the Hancock Street/Sagamore Street bridge over the MBTA tracks. Specific problems with the bridges are not known.

All three bridges are chokepoints during commuter hours, said Chris Walker, spokesman for Mayor Thomas P. Koch.

The Neponset bridge has already undergone structural repairs. The next phase would involve the deck.

"That bridge is in terrible shape," said Walker. He said he sees the Fore River and Neponset bridges as "bookends" at either end of the city, so repairs are crucial.

The Hancock Street bridge is a four-lane span that has had one lane closed for about two years.

In Raynham, a bridge over Interstate 495 connects Raynham and Middleborough. Any problem with that bridge would particularly affect parents who need to cross the bridge to get to local schools, said Roger A. Stolte, the highway superintendent.

Brockton Mayor James E. Harrington said he was happy that the Route 123 bridge over Route 24 made the list because trouble there would pose a significant problems.

"That's a key interchange for the city," he said.

Patrick's proposal enjoys key leadership support from Senate President Therese Murray, Democrat of Plymouth, and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. State Treasurer Tim Cahill also supports the bill.

"By taking action now, we can start to make up for decades of neglect and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past," said Murray.

The work on the state's bridges would be done over eight years, financed through $1.1 billion in grant anticipation notes, which borrow against anticipated future federal funding, and $1.9 billion in gas tax bonds, which would be repaid with existing gas tax revenues.

If the work is not done, the number of structurally deficient bridges would increase to about 700 over the next eight years, according to the state.

Accelerating the bridge work would save about $1.5 billion in cost inflation and deferred maintenance costs, according to the governor's office.

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com.

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