Saturday, 2:15 PM
(Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
Construction crews worked at the Fenway and Kenmore exits from Storrow Drive in Boston after a chunk of concrete hit a vehicle Saturday night.
By James Vaznis, Globe Staff
A ramp to Storrow Drive reopened early this morning when crews completed work reinforcing the overpass after a piece of concrete smashed through a car's rear windshield on Saturday.
The Bowker Overpass near Kenmore Square reopened at 3:30 a.m., which was 90 minutes ahead of schedule, according to Wendy Fox, spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which is responsible for the ramp. The repairs included the installation of a wooden ceiling to catch any other falling debris on the overpass, which links Storrow Drive and the Longwood Medical Center.
The state had begun emergency repairs on the overpass just days before the piece of concrete smashed the car windshield. But the section of the overpass where the concrete broke off was considered one of the sounder stretches of the crumbling overpass, and had not been scheduled for repairs.
At about 5 p.m. Saturday, a car that had been traveling west on Storrow Drive took an exit ramp toward Kenmore Square. But as the car drove down the ramp, a piece of concrete -- 6 inches by 8 inches -- fell from the overpass, smashing through the back windshield, said State Police Trooper Eric Benson. The driver and two passengers were not injured.
The overpass from which the concrete fell connects Boylston Street to Storrow Drive eastbound.
"Certainly it is a hazardous situation," Benson said.
The event prompted concerns from one elected official yesterday about the overall safety of the overpass.
"I know DCR takes public safety very seriously, but I'm greatly concerned about the condition of the Bowker Overpass," said state Representative Marty Walz, whose district encompasses the Kenmore Square area and much of the decaying highway infrastructure along the Charles River. "If DCR can't ensure public safety, then the roadway should be closed until emergency repairs can be completed."
Commissioner Rick Sullivan of the DCR said that the sudden spike in temperatures Saturday likely caused the concrete to come loose. Freezing and thawing can weaken concrete. As with the formation of potholes, concrete can crack when it freezes, allowing water to seep in and freeze. When temperatures warm, the cracks can expand further.
That section of the overpass had its most recent official inspection in July 2007, the agency said.
Walz said she often receives complaints from constituents who, when traveling underneath the overpass by foot or motor vehicle, have observed cracked and crumbling concrete.
"The falling concrete illustrates that the overpass desperately needs repairs, if not complete demolition," Walz said.
Although state inspectors have not deemed the overpass structurally deficient, the Bowker is scheduled for a major rehabilitation or replacement as part of $3 billion in bridge improvements identified by the state. The design phase is expected to begin late next year, one of more than a dozen bridge, tunnel, and overpass projects slated along the Charles River. In some cases, problems are so dire the state has embarked on temporary repairs.
At Bowker, which connects with about eight ramps and bridges, the state last summer began repair work pegged at more than $5 million on another ramp that was not involved in Saturday's accident. The project, scheduled to be completed later this year, replaces the deck and the roadway, while also shoring up cement and steel support structures.
Because the Charles River Walkway passes beneath the overpass, the state placed a floating walkway on the river so pedestrians could walk around the construction site.
Last week, major repairs began on another section of the overpass, not involved in Saturday's accident, because of ample potholes created by this season's plentiful snow and extreme cold. According to an announcement posted on the DCR website: "Many potholes are deep enough to expose the underlying steel reinforcement and have reached a level where temporary patching will not suffice."
Crews are working seven days a week.
In a television interview with Fox 25 Saturday night, the car's driver, Bart Mitchell, said he hopes the state fixes its bridges and keeps unsafe ones closed. He was returning from a hockey game with his teenage daughter and one of her friends, who was sprayed with shattered glass.
"There's a sunroof in the car," Mitchell told the station. "If it fell there, it probably would have come on top of my daughter and myself."