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Route 99 bridge delays cause angst

State officials say work on the $51.5 million bridge project on Route 99 is expected to be completed in July 2014.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

State officials say work on the $51.5 million bridge project on Route 99 is expected to be completed in July 2014.

Users of Route 99 have been patiently waiting for the conclusion of a bridge construction project at Alford Street outside of Charlestown’s Sullivan Square.

And waiting.

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And waiting.

In recent weeks, readers who frequent the bridge, which straddles the Mystic River between Charlestown and Everett, have sent desperate missives about the never-ending project that has whittled down the traffic flow to one lane per direction, causing major gridlock.

“It seems like the traffic has been backed up and punished there forever and ever. Two years? How long does it take to get that fixed?” wrote one reader, James. “You almost never see anyone working on the bridge. What is going on?”

“It seems it has been going on for YEARS and still is a traffic clog. You almost never see anyone working on the bridge, though finally one side seems done, now the other one is beginning work,” wrote Jim of Charlestown.

“Because of this construction, traffic sometimes backs up nearly all the way back to the McGrath overpass outside Union Square, Somerville,” wrote Paul of Malden. “It seems as if any construction had stopped on the bridge for several months. Now at least I see some activity. But . . . this is just for one side. When that’s done, they still have to do the other side of it before things return to two lanes of traffic in each direction.”

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Mike Verseckes, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, had some good news and some bad news. On the plus side, the Boston-bound side of the bridge is refurbished and mechanical testing of the drawbridge has been completed.

But the $51.5 million project — contracted to SPS New England, the same folks working on the Longfellow bridge reconstruction — is a little more than one year behind schedule, Verseckes said.

He attributed the delay, in part, to parts of the bridge that contractors thought could be refurbished.

“As the job got underway, it was determined early on that many of those elements could not be reused and that additional materials had to be fabricated from scratch,” Verseckes said. “Also, work was required to remove and replace the bridge’s north abutment, which had experienced more deterioration than anticipated.”

Construction crews also had to remove an abandoned gas line they discovered behind the north abutment.

But that’s not all.

MassDOT has a deal with the Coast Guard that the Mystic River channel can be closed from Nov. 1 to May 31 to allow for bridge construction.

When delays pushed back the construction timeframe — well, too bad, the Coast Guard said.

“Because of these complications and the additional work they required, we lost the most recent window of time to accomplish that [which ended this past May],” Verseckes said. 

“The Coast Guard is allowing for the channel to be closed for that required work starting Nov. 1 of this year and ending May 31 of next year.”

So, in short: It’ll be a while longer.

Verseckes said the project “is back on a schedule we are confident in.” July 2014, he says, is when officials believe the bridge will be fully reopened with travel lanes in both directions, with the entire project completed by August 2014.

Mayoral candidate goes car-less

For three days this week, Councilor Mike Ross attempted the near-impossible: He navigated the Boston mayoral race campaign trail without his car.

Between Wednesday and Friday, it was exclusively MBTA, bikes, cabs, and ride-share apps for the candidate — part of his effort to publicize his new transportation plan, released Tuesday , on how he intends to improve residents’ ability to move quickly and safely around the city.

His transit adventure got off to a rough start: Just after 11 a.m. Wednesday, he tweeted that he was late for his first appointment due to a delay on the Orange Line.

In an interview Tuesday evening, Ross said he hoped his 72 hours of car-free living would bring attention to the need for improvement in Boston’s transportation system. And though the MBTA system is a state entity, Ross said he envisions a bigger partnership with the city, where the mayor will help figure out how to finance improvements on the T.

“The next mayor has no choice,” Ross said. “The MBTA will have to be his or her problem, and it will be mine.”

His first idea? Bring back the Night Owl, an MBTA bus service that ran until the wee hours in the early 2000s. He wants to garner funding from private organizations to finance the service, and he is also considering using city money to help foot the bill.

“I haven’t ruled out using actual city resources,” Ross said, “because it’s that important.”

Ross said much of his transportation platform will also focus on bikes: In the vein of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, he wants to add miles of bike lanes and cycle tracks, expand the Hubway bike-share system and make it year-round, and create a task force to analyze the most dangerous intersections for bikes.

“I’m not suggesting that we have to implode every intersection and redesign it,” Ross said. Instead, he wants smaller and more nuanced changes, he said, such as moving a bus stop a few feet to help avoid collisions with bicycles.

He scoffed at the idea that Boston is too old and too compact to accommodate bikes, improve traffic signal timing, and incorporate cutting-edge traffic technology such as parking meter smart phone apps.

“Look, I recognize we have the cow-path argument. I’ve heard it. I’ve made that argument before,” Ross said.

“But I still think there are things we can do with our traffic grid system, with our bicycle system, with public transit, and with our other transportation agencies . . . that I think can bring us to the next level.”

As for Ross’s car-free bout of campaigning, he is no stranger to attention-grabbing campaign stunts: After he announced his candidacy, he stayed awake for 25 hours in a marathon kick-off to his campaign.

Ross maintained that three days without driving is not unusual, pointing out that “this is not my first time hopping on the T. It’s a pretty well-worn Charlie Card.”

“I’m not going to pretend and tell you that I’m Michael Dukakis,” Ross said of the former governor, famous for regularly riding the T from his Brookline home to Beacon Hill. “I haven’t been. But against my colleagues who are in this thing, I think I’ve got 95 percent of them beat.”

Back Bay clock ticking again

Good news! The Back Bay Station clock — which was broken for months, giving a lackluster first impression to arriving Amtrak passengers — is officially fixed, according to the MBTA’s general manager, Beverly A. Scott.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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