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Fore River bridge concept draws a tepid response

The Art Deco style of the former Fore River Bridge (left), which was demolished in 2004, contrasts with the appearance, shown in an architect’s drawing, of a vertical-lift bridge that has been proposed as its replacement. The Art Deco style of the former Fore River Bridge (left), which was demolished in 2004, contrasts with the appearance, shown in an architect’s drawing, of a vertical-lift bridge that has been proposed as its replacement. (Tom Landers/Globe Staff/File 1998 (left); Rosales + Partners (right))
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / February 16, 2012
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WEYMOUTH - What will the new Fore River Bridge look like?

The structure envisioned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is a large, vertical-lift bridge with boxy, rectangular steel towers reaching almost 300 feet high, and a midsection that moves up and down to allow tall tankers and barges to pass underneath. At night, soft blue lighting would highlight the bridge, and the two towers would appear as reflections on the surface of the Fore River.

But many South Shore residents don’t share that vision. When state transportation officials unveiled pictures of their newly designed bridge at a public hearing last Thursday, residents and local officials did not seem impressed.

“It ain’t the Lenny Zakim Bridge,’’ was the observation of Braintree Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan, addressing a panel of state transportation officials at the hearing.

Many area residents say they want the new bridge to resemble the old, Art Deco-style bridge that spanned the Fore River from 1936 until it was demolished in 2004. That was a bascule bridge, so it operated like a drawbridge. It also had a low profile.

The vertical-lift bridge proposed by the state would operate just like the temporary, so-called erector set bridge that spans the Fore River now.

“I hate it, to be honest with you,’’ said Gary Peters, a Weymouth resident and spokesman for the Fore River Bridge Neighborhood Association.

“It’s one gigantic structure that we don’t think we need,’’ said Peters.

Peters said the vertical-lift bridge would be more expensive to build than a bascule bridge, and the towers would be equivalent to the Statue of Liberty (305 feet), or the giant Goliath crane that once stood at the Quincy shipyard (328 feet).

According to the Fore River Bridge project website, transportation officials chose the vertical-lift design because it will allow the shipping channel to be widened to provide more room for the ships, tankers, and other vessels passing through.

According to Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, the cost would be comparable to a bascule bridge, but the vertical-lift bridge would have a longer life. Most important, the bridge would disrupt traffic less often, because more ships could pass under the bridge without having to raise it.

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch has questioned whether the vertical-lift is the best way to go, and has called for a meeting with the Coast Guard to see if the bascule bridge is a viable option.

The vertical-lift bridge, Lynch said, “is going to be a towering structure. It’s a bit overwhelming.’’

A bascule bridge, like the 1936 bridge, he said “would provide a much lower profile, and would be more in line with the buildings in the area.’’

During the hearing, Lynch asked that local workers be used to rebuild the Fore River Bridge. Project officials later confirmed there is no Project Labor Agreement for the bridge replacement.

State officials plan to spend $280 million to replace the Fore River Bridge. Construction could begin as early as fall 2012 and finish by the end of 2016. Verseckes said that before the bridge can be built, permits need to be obtained from the Office of Coastal Zone Management, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Coast Guard.

Sullivan said he hopes careful consideration is given to the public’s opinion on the bridge’s design and appearance.

“There’s a sense that a decision on the vertical lift was made prior to complete public input,’’ said Sullivan. “The decision seems to be motivated by expense. . . . We appreciate that the bridge needs to be replaced. But this is a 75-year bridge, it might be there 100 years. We want it done well.

“The pictures were pretty. But let’s ensure that the reality reflects the renderings we saw,’’ he said.

The new bridge design was presented by Miguel Rosales, president of Rosales + Partners, a Boston-based architectural firm whose portfolio includes the Zakim bridge.

Rosales said many different designs were studied, but this is the “one Mass DOT would like to proceed with.’’

Rosales said designers tried to incorporate details inspired by the Art Deco features of the 1936 bridge, with the goal of creating a “clean, elegant design.’’

“There are many vertical lift bridges in the United States and most of them look very industrial and utilitarian,’’ said Rosales, in an e-mail. “In particular, we are using a stainless steel mesh surface for the towers that will cover/conceal the elevators, stairs, utility lines, etc. for a more streamlined and attractive façade, particularly at night.’’

Rosales said he realizes that many people would prefer a bascule bridge, and said he tried to design the best vertical-lift bridge possible.

It’s not the first time he’s encountered criticism on a design.

“We were the bridge architects for the Zakim Bridge, and I remember that for a long time many community members did not like the proposed design because it was too modern and not like any other bridge in Boston,’’ said Rosales.

After completing the Zakim bridge, “it became an instant symbol of the city,’’ he said.

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