The historic Northern Avenue Bridge’s replacement design is nearly official.
In a Zoom meeting Wednesday night, city officials presented their vision to replace the rusty swing bridge connecting downtown Boston and the Seaport across the mouth of Fort Point Channel.
“It is bold, it is beautiful, and it is absolutely worthy of Boston,” city engineer Para Jayasinghe said during the presentation, which included a five-minute virtual walk-through on the bridge.
The design includes two spans for pedestrians and cyclists, along with a single bus lane and a waterfront promenade with trusses evoking the original bridge’s steel frame.
Officials said the below-level promenade will offer a unique view of the Boston Harbor and include public art, landscaping, seating, and potentially even commercial vendors. The space will be connected to the top-level on both sides — with a gradual ramp on the Atlantic Avenue side and stairs, a ramp, and stadium-style seating on the Seaport side. The area will also be lit at night, as the video presentation illustrated.
“We didn’t want a just cookie-cutter bridge going over the Fort Point channel,” said Joe Fleury, the city’s principal bridge engineer.
The final design comes after a years-long process, including an at-times contentious debate over what, if any, vehicle traffic would be allowed.
The original, deteriorating bridge — which first opened in 1908 and even carried freight trains for more than 50 years — was closed to car traffic in 1997. And in 2014, officials closed it off to pedestrians as well, citing “deterioration beyond repair.” The Coast Guard says the crumbling structure — left in the open position to allow boat traffic to pass — remains a risk of collapsing into the channel.
After winnowing down general architectural designs last year, city officials presented a general concept for a “people first” bridge this past December that prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists. While it would be closed to general car traffic, the final design does include a bus lane leading to Atlantic Avenue. Officials also said they wanted to leave open the option of using the bridge for vehicle traffic during construction on the adjacent Moakley Bridge.
Asked about the concerns about how bus lanes will be separated from cyclists and pedestrians, Jayasinghe said certain specific details are still being worked out. Officials say the design will be 100 percent complete by the end of the year, ahead of major construction next year. According to Jayasinghe, they’re aiming for a ribbon-cutting in 2022.
The city has earmarked roughly $100 million for the project, though Jayasinghe noted that the financial effects of the coronavirus has made things “challenging.”