by Ian Marvinney and Nikki Gloudeman
A temporary pedestrian span will be installed in an overnight operation, making one more step towards the replacement of the Walden Street bridge, slated for 2008.
City officials are confident that the Walden Street Bridge project is on track, said City Engineer Owen C. O’Riordan.
“There is a big push to do everything we can to shorten the year timeline of the project,” said City Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio. “But I am pleased with the city in taking an active role, and thankful for the bridge being fixed because it’s been over a decade of being in need of repair.”
“This is something that has been well planned, and we realize any hindrance to the flow of traffic is a tough one and anything that works around railroad tracks requires special attention,” said State Rep. Alice K. Wolf, D, North Cambridge, whose district includes the bridge.
The lead contractor, J.F. White Construction, Jan. 27 began driving piles into the embankments and assembling a temporary pedestrian bridge on the existing bridge deck, said William Deignan, a planner with the city’s community development office. The project began in October.
In mid-February, NSTAR began construction of an electricity conduit and gas line pipes to the underside of the bridge, O’Riordan said.
This process will be completed in April, once heating demands have subsided after the winter months and workers can transfer gas lines from the old equipment to the new equipment. At that point, the temporary bridge will be lifted into place during a one-night process, which residents will be notified of ahead of time, O’Riordan said.
Deignan said workers can then begin work on the permanent bridge, which will include demolishing the existing bridge deck and removing debris, constructing new foundations, installing new bridge decks, walls and fencing, restoring the surface and roadway approaches to the bridge with curbing, sidewalks, hydrants, trees, new pavement, line striping and signage, and further gas and electricity work by NSTAR. The process is taking a lot of time because of extensive constrictions. The bridge is located in close proximity to houses and businesses, so construction workers have limited equipment use, and there are live railroad tracks located directly beneath it, O’Riordan said.
A decision to repair the bridge, which was built in 1914, came after it failed to pass a routine safety inspection, said Deignan.
Construction has been progressing according to schedule, said Brian Zillinsky, the projects’ resident engineer.
The two-year schedule is a typical timeframe for a project of this size, he said. Every component of the bridge will be replaced.
Several necessities have contributed to this timeframe, such as the logistics of the temporary bridge and coordinating with the utilities, said Zilllinsky.
The bridge has gas, electric, telephone, cable and water pumped through it, all of which had to be diverted before the real work could begin, he said.
NStar completed the second of three relocations it will make during the course of the project, attaching the gas and electric lines to the underside of the bridge. This completes the relocation of utilities, allowing the main body of the project to begin, according to the DPW Web site.
Further difficulties have stemmed from the bridge spanning a MBTA Commuter Rail track, said Zillinsky. With trains running regularly, certain limits are placed on the amount of time available each day to work on certain aspects of the project.
Night construction is an attempt to balance the necessity of keeping the tracks unobstructed with the project schedule, he said.
Restoration work must also be done on a historic cattle pass that crosses Walden Street parallel to the tracks on the Massachusetts Avenue side of the bridge, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 3, 1994, said Charles M. Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission. The structure was used for cows to pass from one stockyard to another, and that work must be done to ensure its preservation because of mandates in place for state or federally funded projects.
“People are pushing for an accelerated schedule, but I see no opportunities for that,” O’Riordan said.
Another concern has been traffic, Deignan said. Traffic has been re-routed onto two signed detour routes, and that affected traffic signals at intersections have been re-timed to accommodate temporary traffic times.
“It’s a drag,” said Madeline Kleiner, a Richdale Avenue resident. “But there is much less traffic. Before, commuters and non-residents seemed to be using it as a thruway and a shortcut. Now it’s just the people who live here. It’s a pain to get out sometimes, but this is a residential neighborhood. So it’s worth it if it means less traffic.”
“I don’t think it will get done on time,” said Joshua A. Nossoughi, a Walden Street resident, who is the Chief Operations Officer at Elliot Iron Works in Roxbury.
“When you have a union job, you can miss the nuts and bolts of projects. Privatized jobs are more affective and can get the job done quicker because they don’t have the Union overhead,” he said.
He is also worried about the quality of the work, he said. “When I take a look at the Walden Street Bridge site, I have noticed sections of dilapidated iron railing being used.”
Nossoughi said, “One thing done poorly can have a great effect on the society as a whole.”
The new traffic patterns have challenged local business owners Henry and Debbie Nguyen, owners of the Thistle and Shamrock at 62 Walden St., Henry said.
“There are no traffic customers, just local,” he said. “I have a wife and three kids and this business is all we have had to support us for the past 13 years.”
The Nguyens blame the bridge construction for the 50 percent decrease in business, he said.
They took out the overhead lights in the store, and wait until noontime to switch on cooling lights because they can no longer afford their electricity bills, he said.
Cambridge City Council issued a resolution on Jan. 8 encouraging local
residents to shop at the store, said City Councilor member Marjorie K.
Decker, who has championed the family’s cause.
Decker said she appealed to Mass Highway to meet with the Nguyens to discuss the situation.
Deignan said, in response to neighborhood concerns, including the final look of the new bridge, he held a meeting Feb. 24 to discuss the possibility of placing form liners and other design elements along the sides of the bridge.
The highway department will make a decision soon based on the neighborhood suggestions, he said.