Traffic woes feared during bridge work

Starting July 20, Cambridge-bound drivers can’t use Longfellow Bridge; they will be detoured to another span during construction.
David L Ryan / Globe Staff
Starting July 20, Cambridge-bound drivers can’t use Longfellow Bridge; they will be detoured to another span during construction.

Representatives of Massachusetts General Hospital and several other large institutions are raising concerns about traffic changes and detours scheduled to begin in less than two weeks for the rehabilitation of the Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge and Boston.

Beginning July 20, transportation officials are planning to close the bridge to Cambridge-bound vehicles and detour them to the Craigie Bridge — a detour expected to continue through September 2014.

Boston-bound vehicles will be shifted to one lane on the Longfellow Bridge during the first stage of construction, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.


MBTA Red Line service will be affected on 25 weekends during the project, which is expected to last 3½ years.

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But at a meeting held at MIT Wednesday night to review the traffic plans and construction at the bridge, representatives of Massachusetts General Hospital, TD Garden, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary asked the design-and-build team for the project to reconsider their plan not to allow traffic to travel in both directions over the bridge during construction.

“The issue we still feel strongly about is two-way traffic on the bridge,” said Joe Crowley, senior manager of parking and ambassador services at Mass. General. “We believe a two-way traffic plan would be much better for residents of both Cambridge and Boston.”

Chris Maher, vice president at Boston Garden Development Corp., said he also favors allowing travel in both directions and expressed concern about the planned detours.

A test of the detours will come early. Maher reminded members of the White-Skanska-Consigli design-and-build team that pop star Justin Bieber will perform at TD Garden the weekend the detour begins, and the Yankees will be in Boston to play the Red Sox.


Still, project managers are ready to move ahead with their plan to detour Cambridge-bound traffic. Drivers will be routed from Charles Circle to Leverett Circle, past the Museum of Science, onto Monsignor O’Brien Highway, and then to Edwin H. Land Boulevard in Cambridge.

Representatives of White-Skanska-Consigli said 23 new cameras will be installed in Boston to monitor traffic, and Boston, Cambridge, and State Police will assist with intense monitoring of traffic in the first two weeks of the project. After that, the monitoring will be decreased but will continue.

Emergency access — as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic — will be allowed on the bridge during construction, according to the state Department of Transportation.

If the planners see problems in the first couple of weeks, said Bill Shea, a project executive, they could alter the plan and allow two-way traffic.

Red Line service — trains stop at the Charles/MGH Station on the Boston side and the Kendall/MIT Station on the Cambridge side — will continue throughout the project, but buses will replace trains in the area on 25 weekends.


Boston-bound car and truck traffic will also be detoured to the Craigie Bridge (it carries Route 28 next to the Green Line viaduct) on those 25 weekends.

The $255 million project, part of the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program, will address the 107-year-old bridge’s structural deficiencies and upgrade its capacity. Even the bridge’s four towers, sometimes called the salt and pepper shakers, will be dismantled and rebuilt, said Mark Ennis, design project manager.

Construction has already reduced vehicle traffic to one lane in each direction over a second key bridge over the Charles River: the Anderson Memorial Bridge, between Harvard Square and Allston.

And the Walter J. Reid Overpass — along Memorial Drive over the rotary at the BU Bridge — closed in April for what was supposed to be a six-month construction project. But Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said an effort is being made to reopen the overpass as soon as July 19, the day before the Longfellow Bridge detours begin.

The Longfellow Bridge project will eventually lead to a permanent reduction in the number of traffic lanes from Boston to Cambridge over the bridge from two to one, which will allow for wider sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

During the 25 weekend disruptions of Red Line service, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority customers will ride buses between Kendall/MIT Station in Cambridge and Park Street Station in downtown Boston, with a stop at Charles/MGH.

Shea said that five weekend disruptions of Red Line service are expected this year.

Mary Leach, director of public affairs at Mass. Eye and Ear, said she worries about even more traffic in the area. “Things are stopped in front of the hospitals already,” Leach said. The infirmary is next to Mass. General.

Crowley and MIT campus planner Kelley Brown requested a more detailed traffic plan so that residents, employers, and institutions in the area can review it.

Brock Parker can be reached at