That bridge. If you commute along Route 109 in Westwood where it crosses over Interstate 95, you know the one I’m talking about. The overpass that, it would appear, has spent years in a time-freeze of partially completed construction.
The bridge work has garnered attention in the past. But judging from the plethora of e-mails sent by readers in recent months — “Has the state forgotten about the project?” wrote one reader — the topic is due for an update.
The background: The Westwood overpass needs rebuilding because the highway underneath is being rebuilt as part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s decades-long “Add-A-Lane” project, which is widening Route 128 from three permanent lanes to four between Randolph and Wellesley. Since the highway will be wider, the bridge that straddles the road must be lengthened.
Sounds straightforward. And yet, that $77 million project has taken years. Residents’ impatience boiled over in 2012 when construction appeared to cease, and traffic was limited to one lane of travel in each direction.
In December 2012, my predecessor in this space got a response from MassDOT: Officials ran into an unexpected issue with the bedrock foundation, said spokesman Mike Verseckes, who offered that “contractors shifted to another area, while the state determines how to handle this and how much more it will cost.”
In August 2013, another colleague offered hope: Construction was finally scheduled to restart.
Still, since that update, people e-mailed to say that they didn’t see much progress on the bridge.
From October: “What’s the story on the Rt. 109 bridge overpass?” wrote Janet of Dover. “I never see anyone working on it, and it is a mess.”
In March: “The Route 109/Route 128 overpass appears to have made painfully little progress for more than a year,” commented Sue Buckley of Medfield.
And in April: “There is apparently no work on the Rt. 109 overpass over 128 at present,” wrote David Stephenson, also of Medfield. “This project was started YEARS ago (5-10??) and it is an absolute disgrace.”
And yet, MassDOT maintains that the project has gotten back on its feet and is moving with some momentum. It’s a McCourt Construction project, and they’ve been around, Verseckes said: 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., five days a week.
One piece of evidence buttressing MassDOT’s assertion: Google Street View’s October 2013 image of the bridge shows several workers standing in the construction zone. Another: When we took a photograph of the overpass this week, workers were on site and a couple of pieces of heavy machinery were in operation. But Stephenson maintained that he only began to see construction work a few weeks ago.
So, let’s take them at their word: Work is in progress. But what’s taking so long?
The bedrock issue turned out to be a big one. Engineers’ original plan was to anchor the foundation of the bridge onto a firm ledge of bedrock along the southbound side of Route 128. But once excavation began, the bedrock was embedded deeper in the soil than anticipated. Adding to that, the outermost layer of the rock was cracked and crumbly.
Engineers’ choices: Build a new kind of abutment with large feet to help stabilize the bridge, or dig deeper and try to reach the bedrock.
It took a while, but they decided to opt for the latter: retool the design and dig deeper so the abutments could be drilled into the bedrock. This also meant that they had to find new locations for the utility lines that run through the area.
But that explanation gets a little too deep into the nitty-gritty wonkery that few residents really care about. The real question: When will this be done?
“Our goal is to restore all travel lanes on Route 109 by September 2015,” Verseckes said, “and to complete this segment of the widening project by October 2015.”
MassDOT officials said the final cost of the bridge is likely to increase because of the new bridge design.
A lost-and-found story with a happy ending
In this age of widespread public transit jadedness, a call to the MBTA’s lost-and-found should be an exercise in futility. A successful rescue of a lost item requires a veritable alignment of the stars: Fellow passengers must resist the temptation to pilfer, harried public transit staff must take the time to deliver the lost item to a temporary refuge, and somehow, the rightful owner must be reunited with the lost belonging.
And yet, Victoria Glazomitsky of East Boston has a story to inspire some faith.
Last week, she was on her way home from a wine tasting in Salem on the Newbury/Rockport line of the commuter rail. In her care: Three bottles of wine — two white, one red — all imported from southern Italy, which she intended to bear as gifts of good tidings at a friend’s upcoming bachelorette party.
She placed the bag by her feet, but forgot to pick it up when she got off the train. “The generous pours at the wine tasting did not help with my memory,” Glazomitsky said.
Against her more dubious inclinations, she called the customer service line to connect her to lost-and-found. She was skeptical. Surely someone would’ve scooped up the bag.
“I am not proud to admit this, but I got off the phone having shared one or two choice words and then something to the effect of ‘I hope you all enjoy the wine. The whites should be chilled.’ ”
She was dumbfounded when, 10 minutes later, the commuter rail guy called back. They had her wine. She was overcome, she said, “with utter shock and gratitude.” She told Mark, the guy manning the commuter rail info line, to keep a bottle. (He declined.) And the next morning, all three bottles were there when she picked up the bag.
It turns out that there are more than a dozen numbers for lost-and-found: A different one for each line on the subway, as well as for each bus garage, South Station, and North Station. But all those numbers are available in one handy place: http://firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.