GLOUCESTER — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded its single largest contract ever on Wednesday, agreeing to pay $244.6 million to rebuild the Fore River Bridge that connects Quincy and Weymouth.
The contract amount is the largest the department has awarded since a 2009 law merged the Massachusetts Highway Department, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, and the Executive Office of Transportation to form MassDOT. The Fore River Bridge is near the old Quincy shipyard. A temporary bridge has been in place for more than a decade after the original bridge was taken down.
Construction of the new bridge is expected to take 3½ years and create 250 to 300 jobs, transportation officials said.
During a MassDOT board meeting Wednesday afternoon at Gloucester City Hall, the board awarded the contract to White-Skanska Koch J.V., a joint venture between a Framingham-based company and a New York firm. Both specialize in heavy highway and bridge construction.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey called it a “signature project” for MassDOT, and he publicly thanked state transportation officials involved in the planning.
The board took its business on the road Wednesday as part of a plan to hold meetings around the state to reach people unable to make it into Boston. State transportation officials said they will hold more meetings outside Boston.
Transportation officials have been working on plans to rebuild the bridge for several years, Highway Administrator Frank DePaola said.
Twelve years ago, the US Coast Guard deemed the original bridge “structurally deficient” and ordered the state to tear it down, DePaola said. A temporary bridge, with a 15-year expected lifespan, was put up in its place over the Fore River, linking Quincy and Weymouth along Route 3A. The existing temporary bridge will be demolished as part of the project.
The Coast Guard signed off on the bridge design by White-Skanska Koch J.V., and issued a permit to MassDOT in April, DePaola said. The new 250-foot-wide bridge will be a lift bridge, moving up and down like an elevator when a ship goes underneath. When lifted, the bridge will be 175 feet high, allowing any large marine freighter to pass through, DePaola said.
Neighbors near the bridge are upset by the lift bridge design, largely because the two towers needed on either side of the structure will rise 200 feet, DePaola said.
A community group attempted to appeal an approved water quality certificate by the Department of Environment Protection, but the appeal was dismissed by that department, state transportation officials said.
Local residents wanted a design with lower-profile towers. Other designs were more expensive and would have required moving utilities, DePaola said.
Funding for the bridge comes from the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program, launched in 2008 with $2 billion in state funds and $1 billion in federal money. The program was partly a reaction to a massive bridge collapse in Minnesota.
The Fore River Bridge project is one of five megaprojects in the planning stages under the program, DePaola said. The others are the Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge in Worcester; the John Greenleaf Whittier Bridge on Interstate 95 in Newburyport and Amesbury; the Longfellow Bridge in Cambridge; and the Route 79 ramps in Fall River.
MassDOT expects to award contracts for the Whittier and Longfellow bridges by early next year, DePaola said.