The Bridges of Suffolk County

Everyone knows the Longfellow Bridge is being rebuilt. It is scheduled for completion in late 2016. But other bridges across the Charles and other waterways are also undergoing changes.

Here’s an update of what is happening, starting with the bridge farthest away from the downtown and moving east. Prepare yourself for lots of new lights.

Anderson Memorial Bridge

This bridge crosses the Charles from JFK Street in Cambridge to North Harvard Street next to the Harvard stadium in Allston. The bridge remains open, but is undergoing major reconstruction, said Rebecca Cyr of MassDOT, to be completed in June, 2016.

A benefit of the redo is the possibility of a new pedestrian/bike passageway beneath the bridge on the Boston side of the river so walkers and bikers can avoid crossing traffic. Cyr wrote in an email that discussions are ongoing about this. “The infrastructure to support a future pedestrian tunnel has been added to the original contract scope,” she said. Renata von Tscharner, president of the Charles River Conservancy, is more definite about this plan than Cyr is. Von Tscharner said the contract is being finalized, and the design should be finished by the end of the year.

The bridge’s arches will be permanently illuminated when construction is complete.

Weeks Bridge

The pedestrian bridge that crosses the river at the foot of DeWolfe Street in Cambridge has been under construction but still open to walkers since August, 2013, said William Hickey, acting spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation. He said DCR is repairing the structure, adding new railings, improving drainage and handicap accessibility to the bridge, and shoring up the river bank. This bridge could not be closed because it serves as a primary viewing point for the Head of the Charles.

The construction should be complete by spring, 2015. When finished, the bridge’s arches will be illuminated and historic lighting along the walkway will be restored.

Western Avenue and River Street bridges

These are slated for reconstruction but the timetable is mushy. Richard Davey, the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, has expressed support for pedestrian underpasses on the Boston side for these bridges too.

These bridges are affected by the planning (or barely begun planning) at the Allston/Mass Pike interchange. If the underpasses are actually built, walkers and bikers will enjoy seven miles of uninterrupted, car-free paths from downtown Boston to the Arsenal Bridge in Watertown.

Harvard Bridge

Since this is Massachusetts, the bridge connecting Boston to MIT’s campus, is, of course, called the Harvard Bridge.

This bridge is non-descript. But the Charles River Conservancy procured $2.5 million from an anonymous donor and will light this bridge permanently with a design by bridge guru Miguel Rosales, said von Tscharner. The design is underway, and lights should be shining before December, 2015.

Footbridge across locks and canals

This is a dream footbridge, partly because it is only a dream, but also because it would be sublime. Miguel Rosales has a preliminary design for a Charles River pedestrian crossing incorporating two bridges on the up-river side of the Science Museum. One footbridge would begin on the Esplanade west of the Craigie Bridge, cross the Charles River locks, and land in the Science Museum’s back yard. A path would lead to a second bridge crossing the Lechmere Canal, connecting with the paths on the Cambridge side of the river. It might prompt the Science Museum to clean up its act along the river

This plan has no funding now, but if you have a few million dollars lying around, put them here.

Bascule Pedestrian Bridge

A bascule bridge lifts up by means of a counterweight to let tall boats go through. Such a bridge lies north of North Station. Commuter trains traverse it constantly to get to points north.

As mitigation for the Big Dig, Boston was promised a pedestrian bridge parallel to this bascule bridge. Rebecca Cyr of MassDOT said this bridge is still in project development. It seems to have been so for many years. Who knows if it will ever get built?

North Washington Street Bridge

Miguel Rosales (busy man) has completed a new design for this bridge’s replacement, which will be shared with the public probably in November, said Boston city engineer Para Jayasinghe. Its look will compliment the nearby Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, which Rosales also worked on. Construction should begin in about three years. This bridge will be multi-modal, said Jayasinghe.

Northern Avenue Bridge

This 1908 steel swing bridge over the Fort Point Channel evokes Boston’s industrial past, but hasn’t been used for vehicular traffic since 1997 because of its poor condition.

Walkers and bikers use it to cross between the Seaport District and Atlantic Avenue. The Boston Harbor Association has for two summers installed planters and flowers. The bridge sparkles on winter nights with multi-colored lights.

The bridge is to be replaced with one exactly like it, said Jayasinghe, but when that will happen is not determined. Challenges are the cost and design, which must allow tall boats to pass beneath. Jayasinghe wants to raise the bridge since maintaining the swinging portion would be too expensive and disruptive to traffic. Jaysinghe said the bridge probably won’t qualify for federal funding without being designed for cars.

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