Bids are Out on Silver Line Project, Bridge Closure to Last a Little Longer

State transportation officials told a crowded house at the Chelsea City Council Chambers on Monday night that the Silver Line expansion project is still moving quickly, but that the complete closure of the Washington Avenue Bridge will be longer than previous announced.

Last April, state Department of Transportation (DOT) planners said they would likely only be closing the bridge – which has been deemed structurally unsound – for seven months. Now, however, that looks to be 12 months, with another seven months of closure for the southbound-only lanes. Pedestrian access will be available throughout the closure.

The closure of such a major artery in the City was a point of great discussion earlier in the project as the bridge must be replaced to accommodate the trains and buses that will run underneath, but the street is also very heavily travelled by drivers and the Fire Department.

When the earlier, shorter closure was announced, it was a breath of fresh air.

Officials said that time frame, though, had to be changed recently – and with it some accommodations were made.

“As the design was finalized after that last meeting, it appeared like it was going to take 13 or 14 months to get this done and it became much more complicated,” said Joe Pavao, a DOT project manager. “We decided to take another look at this and see if we could work into the contract an accelerated schedule with project-based incentives to do this. With that in place, we think we can get it down to nine or 10 months…Basically, the contractor has a 12-month window to get the bridge done. Every day under 12 months they cut off, they receive more money for the project. Every day over 12 months, they receive less money. This is something we have done in other projects, the Callahan Tunnel being the best example. With incentives, the contractor finished it way ahead of schedule.”

Following that full closure – which was estimated to be anywhere from 10.5 to 14 months – there will be a Phase 2 period where only the northbound lane will be opened. Southbound traffic on Washington Avenue will be detoured.

During the entire project, officials said they hope they can save some major time by piggybacking on commuter rail weekend shutdowns – shutdowns which will be in place due to another bridge replacement on the line in Revere.

“By piggybacking on those weekend closures, we’re hoping the contractor can make up some time,” said Pavao.

The bridge is expected to close in May 2015, with total completion of the bridge project in December 2016. Neighborhoods will likely feel the brunt of that closure as the busy Route 111 bus will be traveling new streets – not to mention motorists.

One of the major sticking points with closing the bridge for so many months came from Chelsea Fire officials who wondered aloud how they would respond to fires in the northern part of the city without being able to use the only major artery to that section of town.

Since the longer closure was disclosed, City Manager Jay Ash, DOT and the  Fire Department have worked out a compromise.

“When the Washington Ave Bridge closes, Engine 4 will be placed into service,” said Deputy Chief John Quatieri. “The station location has not been determined yet but it will be in the southern section if the city. The Fire Department strategy is to have two engine companies and one ladder company on each side of the closure.”

Ash said the DOT has agreed to fund the staffing of the extra engine in order to move the project along and ensure adequate fire coverage.

“They have agreed to fund the hiring of an additional engine company during the entire period of full closure of the bridge,” said Ash. “We’re currently looking at locations where we may be able to place that, maybe down in the Mystic Mall area, for flexibility in our responses.”

Bridge work aside, the exciting points of the project are moving quickly – that being the Phase 1 piece of new bus rapid transit (BRT) stations and the construction of the busway and walking path.

Bids for the project went out in mid-July – about one month ago – and DOT estimates that bids for Phase 1 will be awarded by November or December. Major construction is expected to begin in March 2015.

The busway is expected to be finished in February 2017 and the stations in March 2017 – with service to begin in spring 2017.

A new commuter rail station behind the Market Basket store is part of Phase 2 and will be copleted in April 2018.

“What continues to be encouraging is the fast tracking of this project,” said Ash, who has called it one of the biggest game changers in the City’s modern history. “A bid opening in September and a contract award before the end of the year is just great news. The governor came here and announced this project and I’m happy he has followed up on this before he has left office. This is a ‘fast track,’ but I’ve actually been working on this 20 years or more. It’s great to see it happening after all that time.”

The Silver Line route already exists in South Boston’s Innovation District, connecting to the Red Line and Logan Airport. The expansion will take the existing Line to Airport Station and then bring it over the Chelsea Street Bridge to the Eastern Avenue parking garage. From there, it will travel on a dedicated right-of-way behind the MWRA facility and the Box District. From there it will parallel the commuter rail and end next to the Market Basket.

The expanded line will give a direct connection for Chelsea residents to jobs in the Innovation District, and will also give a direct connection to South Station – which will be very beneficial for the new FBI Headquarters.

There was no set time for the next public meeting, but another is expected prior to construction next spring.

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