MEDFORD — Paul Revere traveled across the historic Cradock Bridge on his famous ride from Boston to Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775.
The bridge site, which dates to 1638, carries Main Street, or Route 38, across the Mystic River into Medford Square. In years past, the bridge was rebuilt to include a draw, to collect tolls from cargo ships plying the Mystic’s waters. In 1880, the structure was replaced with a single-span, stone-arch bridge that still is the key entryway to the square.
But a $12.7 million state plan to rebuild the bridge, beginning next spring, worries local merchants, who fear lengthy traffic tie-ups and a loss of shoppers as traffic is rerouted.
“I’m concerned the traffic is going to be so backed up, going to choke the entire business community in the square,” Maury Carroll said, seated in Carroll’s, the restaurant he opened last year in a Main Street building adjacent to the bridge. “That’s going to hurt. Everyone down here has a lot of money invested in their businesses.”
Sharon Hepburn, owner of Mystic Coffee Roaster, also fears the project will disrupt downtown, just as the construction on Clippership Drive did three years ago, when she opened her shop.
‘It’s a safety issue. We need these improvements for our drivers and pedestrians.’
“That was very difficult,” said Hepburn, the rich aroma of coffee filling her shop on Riverside Avenue. “It made it harder for people to reach the square.”
Mayor Michael J. McGlynn, a strong proponent of the project, said its effect on local business is a big concern that still must be addressed by state officials.
“It’s a safety issue,” McGlynn said. “We need these improvements for our drivers and pedestrians. But we also have to look at, how do we make sure the business community doesn’t suffer any harm?”
The project was first proposed in 2008 as part of the state Department of Transportation’s Accelerated Bridge Program. But it was delayed for several years as the recession contributed to state transportation funding woes.
Now back on track, the project is at the 25 percent design stage, and the state held a public hearing on June 27 to gauge public input on the project, which is expected to take 2½ years to complete.
“We have an aging structure that must be replaced, and a lot of sensitive buildings around it,” Paul King, the project manager, told about 50 local officials, residents, and business owners who attended the hearing at Andrews Middle School.
Key elements of the plan call for the four-lane bridge to be repaved, sidewalks replaced, and bicycle lanes added. The bridge’s crumbling stone arches will be shored up, and the facade replaced with granite cladding. An old dam would also be removed to improve navigation for boaters, state officials said.
Testimony taken at the hearing will be used by state traffic engineers as they design the project to the 75 percent stage, said Michael Verseckes, a department spokesman.
The state also plans to schedule a meeting with Medford business owners to further discuss their concerns, he added.
The project’s traffic management plan hinges on construction of a temporary bridge to accommodate northbound traffic. The Route 16 west offramp would have to be pushed back, to create enough space for the temporary structure.
“When it’s ready, it will be lifted by a crane, hoisted over the Mystic River, and put into place,” King said. “We want four lanes of traffic, in and out of the square.”
The structure would require temporary land-takings, including the parking lot of an office building at the corner of Main Street and Clippership Drive, and metered parking spaces on Clippership.
The plan would also temporarily change the direction of the traffic on Clippership Drive, allowing vehicles to turn left or right to access Medford Square. That idea drew sharp criticism from business owners.
“I don’t understand how the traffic on the temporary bridge can take a left,” said Carroll, speaking at the hearing. “By virtue of that, they’re going to cut off all the traffic on Forest, High, and Salem streets. You’re cutting off three major thoroughfares to add one lane.”
James Bruno, who runs a driving school in a building on Main Street whose parking lot would be taken, asked the state to consider moving the temporary bridge further up the river.
“Our students come and go . . . parents drop off,” Bruno told state traffic engineers. “It’s a safety issue . . . I think the bridge should be moved down a bit.”
Loren DiLorenzo, the city’s community development chief, faulted the state for not considering the practical effect of construction on local businesses.
“What concerns me the most is that this project continues to be approached as an engineering project,” DiLorenzo said.
“And what we’re looking for is a planning process that includes the citizens and businesses and leaders of this community.”
King said there is still time for changes.
“Our plans are far from complete, but your questions will drive our plans going forward,” King said.
The state has agreed to hold a second meeting in Medford to discuss the project, but a date is not yet set, DiLorenzo said.
McGlynn said he would like the state to adjust the plan to include construction of a sidewalk on Main Street, near Clippership Drive.
“Right now, all that is there is a traffic island,” he said. “We’ve trying to bring people back to the river. A crosswalk would be a big safety improvement there.”
Safety improvements would also help people who regularly walk through Medford Square, some downtown residents said.
“I don’t like to cross any of the streets in Medford Square,” said Marily Young, 71, who lives in senior housing downtown. “There is a lot of glare and they’re very busy. A crosswalk would help. A lot of seniors use walkers and wheelchairs.”
Kathleen Sweeney, 51, an artist who lives in a condominium in the square, said she hopes the city and state consider all the effects of traffic detours.
“If they’re going to do the work during prime time, then that’s going to be a problem,” said Sweeney, seated in the Booksellers Cafe on High Street. “And if they’re going to let the traffic turn left onto Clippership [from the temporary bridge], that’s going to create a mess. If they do that, people are just going to avoid the square.”
The state will accept written public comments on its plan through July 15. They can be addressed to Thomas F. Broderick, chief engineer, MASS DOT, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116. Attention: Paul King, P.E, Bridge Project Management, Project File No. 604716.