Route 99 bridge delays cause angst

 State officials say work on the $51.5 million bridge project on Route 99 is expected to be completed in July 2014.
State officials say work on the $51.5 million bridge project on Route 99 is expected to be completed in July 2014.
The Boston Globe

Users of Route 99 have been patiently waiting for the conclusion of a bridge construction project at Alford Street outside of Charlestown’s Sullivan Square.

And waiting.

And waiting.

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In recent weeks, readers who frequent the bridge, which straddles the Mystic River between Charlestown and Everett, have sent desperate missives about the never-ending project that has whittled down the traffic flow to one lane per direction, causing major gridlock.

“It seems like the traffic has been backed up and punished there forever and ever. Two years? How long does it take to get that fixed?” wrote one reader, James. “You almost never see anyone working on the bridge. What is going on?”

“It seems it has been going on for YEARS and still is a traffic clog. You almost never see anyone working on the bridge, though finally one side seems done, now the other one is beginning work,” wrote Jim of Charlestown.

“Because of this construction, traffic sometimes backs up nearly all the way back to the McGrath overpass outside Union Square, Somerville,” wrote Paul of Malden. “It seems as if any construction had stopped on the bridge for several months. Now at least I see some activity. But . . . this is just for one side. When that’s done, they still have to do the other side of it before things return to two lanes of traffic in each direction.”

Mike Verseckes, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, had some good news and some bad news. On the plus side, the Boston-bound side of the bridge is refurbished and mechanical testing of the drawbridge has been completed.

But the $51.5 million project — contracted to SPS New England, the folks who worked on the first stage of the Longfellow bridge reconstruction — is a little more than one year behind schedule, Verseckes said.

He attributed the delay, in part, to parts of the bridge that contractors thought could be refurbished.

“As the job got underway, it was determined early on that many of those elements could not be reused and that additional materials had to be fabricated from scratch,” Verseckes said. “Also, work was required to remove and replace the bridge’s north abutment, which had experienced more deterioration than anticipated.”

Construction crews also had to remove an abandoned gas line they discovered behind the north abutment.

But that’s not all.

MassDOT has a deal with the Coast Guard that the Mystic River channel can be closed from Nov. 1 to May 31 to allow for bridge construction.

When delays pushed back the construction timeframe — well, too bad, the Coast Guard said.

“Because of these complications and the additional work they required, we lost the most recent window of time to accomplish that [which ended this past May],” Verseckes said. 

“The Coast Guard is allowing for the channel to be closed for that required work starting Nov. 1 of this year and ending May 31 of next year.”

So, in short: It’ll be a while longer.

Verseckes said the project “is back on a schedule we are confident in.” July 2014, he says, is when officials believe the bridge will be fully reopened with travel lanes in both directions, with the entire project completed by August 2014.