State officials approved a nearly $20 million contract yesterday to rebuild a Charles River bridge connecting Harvard Square and Harvard’s Allston campus, the latest project in the $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program to repair or replace scores of long-neglected spans.
The nearly 100-year-old Anderson Memorial Bridge, which links North Harvard Street in Allston with John F. Kennedy Street in Cambridge, will be rehabilitated between this spring and summer 2014. As was the recently completed Boston University Bridge, it will be slimmed from four vehicle lanes to three to accommodate bicycle lanes and wheelchair-accessible sidewalks.
The redesigned Anderson, which will remain open during construction, will have one lane in the Boston-bound direction and two heading to Cambridge.
That will help end longstanding confusion and conflict among drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians - who often dart across at dangerous times, misreading an array of traffic lights - on a bridge popular for those crossing between the two cities and traveling along both banks on the Charles River Reservation.
The design evolved through collaboration between state and city officials and local advocacy groups.
The Accelerated Bridge Program - begun in 2008 after a fatal bridge collapse in Minnesota - was primarily about making bridges structurally sound and proving that the state could complete projects efficiently in the post-Big Dig era. It has also presented opportunities to reconfigure surfaces for greener and healthier travel on rebuilt bridges that will stand for 50 years or more, Department of Transportation board member Elizabeth Levin said.
“We’re putting a lot of money into the structures, which are critically important and built to last, but people do care about the surfaces, and when we pay attention to how to do it, we’re going to get a magnificent project,’’ Levin said, before the board voted unanimously to approve the contract. “This will hopefully be a jewel.’’
Levin recognized the Charles River Conservancy, which has mounted a campaign over the past two years to advocate for better bike and pedestrian ways across the river’s bridges. The group has sought underpasses beneath the Anderson and the next two of its siblings to be rebuilt, the Western Avenue and River Street bridges.
State officials said they could not afford underpasses at the Anderson but agreed to at least configure the bridge to make them possible in the future.
Construction firm Barletta Heavy Division Inc. of Canton won the job with a bid of $19.99 million, the lowest of eight bids.
Even with $3 billion in borrowed funds, the accelerated program does not have enough money to shore up every structurally deficient bridge across the state. Instead, the program is intended to chip away at a significant backlog of deteriorated spans.
Since the repair campaign began, the number of bridges on the structurally deficient list has shrunk from 543 to 428. The program will repair more than 200 bridges by 2016, about two-thirds of which are already complete or under construction. Five “megaprojects’’ remain, including major work on the Longfellow Bridge, and will account for more than $1 billion alone, said Frank DePaola, the state’s highway administrator.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.