As a major announcement comes this week about the full closure of the Washington Avenue Bridge on May 26, the Chelsea Fire Department (CFD) said it was very unhappy with the way planning has gone for the closure – with the public’s safety being potentially compromised, a spokesman said.
Interim City Manager Ned Keefe and City Planner John DePriest said this week that the proposed plan by the state is to close the Washington Avenue Bridge to all traffic on Tuesday, May 26. It would remain closed for 18 months for repairs, though pedestrian walkways would remain.
The news might be frustrating to local drivers – who will no longer be able to access the north side of the city from Bellingham Square via the popular route – but it’s even more frustrating to Fire officials, who said this week that their plan has not been supported and is a threat to public safety.
“Obviously this is very concerning for us because it will directly impact our ability to protect the public and also creates a serious safety issue for our firefighters,” said Deputy John Quatieri. “We are not satisfied with the outstanding issues because not one of them have been addressed. We submitted a Safety Plan in January 2014 and we will not be able to implement that plan. The bottom line here is the City has not supported the Fire Department’s plan at all. The plan was completely funded by MassDOT so there was no cost to the taxpayers at all. We are concerned and the residents should be also.”
The chief source of frustration is the fact that, first, the Department cannot get across to the north side of the City to respond to incidents. To remedy that, the state agreed to pay for a fourth engine company to be located in the Everett Avenue area – a more direct route to that side of the city. However, while it was believed that a temporary station would be funded, that has not come about so far. So, just where the fourth engine company will be housed is a mystery at this point.
The second issue at hand is Ladder 2 – which as of May 20 – had been out of service for 50 days due to mechanical issues. The Department has been asking for many years for the Ladder 2 to be repaired, but to no avail. Only this winter did the money become available from the City Council to make the repair. However, the repair has dragged on and the Ladder will not be back by May 26.
“We were updated last week on the status of Ladder 2, and the vendor is waiting for parts so they expect the repair will take another week or two,” said Quatieri. “We were hoping to get the truck back the last week of May prior to the bridge closing. It may be the second week in June now.”
He said having the bridge completely closed and the Ladder 2 still out of service makes fire coverage very challenging.
The date of the full closing is actually a moving target, and could be moved back, Keefe said. A final plan for the full closure is expected this week.
The Washington Avenue Bridge replacement project is part of the overall Silver Line Extension project going on this summer. The Bridge must be completed within 18 months, but the contractor has lucrative incentives built into the contract based on finishing earlier.
Detours during the closure will be up Broadway and west on Cary Avenue to Cary Square – and vice versa. Traffic on Broadway is expected to be much worse this summer than normal as a result.