Another sprint to quickly replace highway bridges in short order is coming soon, this time on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The mission of the state’s highway division is to replace eight bridges over eight weekends during the summer of 2021 — in four locations on either side of the highway in Southborough and Westborough. The state will use “accelerated construction” techniques, closing that portion of the highway on a Friday night and reopening in time for the Monday morning commute. Using fast-setting concrete, the replacement structures are built in advance and then dropped in quickly once the old bridges are demolished.
This technique was most famously used by highway officials in 2011, the so-called Fast 14 job on I-93 north of Boston, where 14 bridges were rebuilt over 10 weekends. The replacement of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge in Boston between 2017 and 2018 was also an accelerated project, though was more complex and required road closures during weekdays.
“Whenever we can take advantage of opportunities to get projects done faster, we tend to,” said Jonathan Gulliver, the state’s highway administrator.
While these types of projects cause some short-term headaches, officials see them as better overall for travelers because they don’t require lengthy lane and road closures. That’s especially when projects can be done over a weekend and not interfere with the commute; the Fast 14 project was widely well-received by motorists.
“Regular, everyday commuters won’t see any impact at all during regular commuting times,” Gulliver said.
The turnpike bridges carry the highway over Flanders Road in Westborough, and Parkerville, Cordaville, and Woodland roads in Southborough. They are all more than 60 years old and are spread over a 2-mile stretch just east of the turnpike’s I-495 interchange.
That interchange, by the way, is part of the reason for the hasty replacement project. It’s expected to get a major makeover starting in 2022, to simplify a complex ramp network that is no longer necessary because of the elimination of tollbooths.
Gulliver said that without the accelerated schedule, the highway department risked doing the interchange overhaul at the same time as the bridges, creating something of a double whammy on the turnpike.
The state expects to issue a contract for the project this summer and is estimating it will cost $60 million. Many details will be sorted out later, including which weekends between May and August of 2021 each bridge goes under the knife.
The work will require detours on the local roads below each bridge and lane closures on the highway, with traffic from the eastbound side shifting to the westbound lanes and vice versa. Gulliver said traffic is low enough during weekends to accommodate the reduced capacity, but the transportation department will likely encourage drivers to stay away from the work if they can.
Delays on the Orange Line
Orange Line riders are used to delays. So maybe it’s no surprise that one of the key solutions to that problem is itself delayed again.
With two of its highly hyped new Orange Line trains in regular passenger service, the MBTA had projected that a third train would join them by the end of February.
Alas, it did not.
Production of the new trains at a Springfield plant “slipped" in recent weeks, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. The T received the last two of the six-car set only on Wednesday; now the full train must undergo testing and a “burn-in” phase. Pesaturo said it would still take about another month for it to enter service.
No details yet on what caused things to fall off schedule, but Pesaturo said CRRC, the Chinese company building the trains, is making changes “to maximize the capabilities of its state-of-the-art assembly plant, improve performance and increase productivity.”
CRRC declined to address the reason for the delay but said it is adding 20 employees to its production line this month.
The two new trains that are in service now have been operating regularly since January. But they were taken offline for several weeks in the late fall and early winter due to a problem with the interaction between the two major structural components of the cars.
Because they are covered under warranty, the T is not responsible for costs of the fixes to the trains, which are part of a roughly $1 billion package that also includes new Red Line cars. Still, that may be little comfort to Orange Line riders who just want to see those old 1980s trains replaced as soon as possible.
Where’s the bus? It’s now a little easier to know
Your bus might be stuck in traffic, but for some riders it will now be a little easier to tell how long they have to wait.
The MBTA has deployed new solar-powered messaging boards at a handful of bus stops across the system offering real-time information about wait times. While the T already has large electronic panels at subway stations and some major bus hubs, the new signs are a first for the typical side-of-the-road bus stop.
The wait-time boards display in e-ink similar to Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. For now, they are only at 18 particularly busy bus stops, in Hyde Park, Belmont, Chelsea, and Everett, as well as at some above-ground stops on the Green Line, where they were originally tested.
But there are more than 7,600 bus stops across the network, and the T said additional signs will depend on several factors, including funding and whether cities and towns would help manage them.
Arrival time information is considered an important way to improve riders’ experience at stops. Any delay is frustrating, but uncertainty about how long it will last greatly exacerbates those feelings, transit research has found. Arrival time can also be useful to riders who aren’t relying on a schedule but want to compare to other options like walking or taking an Uber or Lyft.
The information displayed on the signs is from the same database that powers the imperfect but helpful bus tracking apps like Transit and predictions on the MBTA’s website. So riders at stops without the information can still get tracking information with a few swipes on a smartphone.