Fewer things are more frustrating for Chelsea drivers than seeing the gates go down on the Chelsea Street Bridge.
Were it a few minutes of idle time, folks might tolerate it.
However, one could have a five-course picnic on the side of the road, clean up the mess, and get back in the car within the time it takes the $185 million vertical lift bridge to go all the way up, allow marine vessels to pass under and then come back down.
Consequently, rather than waiting, most drivers make quick U-turns and head to alternative routes. Those that wait it out, are most certainly late to work or to airline flights – and to add to the misery – many times the bridge goes up at the most inopportune times, such as morning and evening rush hours.
From Chelsea to Eastie to MassPort and even far-flung territories like West Revere, people are speaking out against the inconvenience of the relatively new state-owned bridge that serves only to accommodate vessels going to three large oil companies – Gulf, Irving and Global.
This week, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he plans to to convene a meeting of stakeholders on the inconvenience of the bridge.
“In conversations with MassPort, I have committed to convening a meeting of stakeholders to talk about the operations of the bridge,” he said this week. “I’m looking to try to convene for that in September or October. We want to talk specifics of the operations of that bridge.”
Ambrosino said the movement on the frustrating issue came when MassPort indicated the airlines at Logan were growing very angry about how the bridge was delaying the arrival of employees. Most airline workers park at the MassPort Garage in Chelsea and then take buses to Logan that utilize the Chelsea Street Bridge. When the bridge is up, the employees are not able to get to work on time in large numbers.
“I think MassPort is concerned about the timing,” he said. “The airlines have been complaining that their employees cannot get to work.”
But they’re not the only ones complaining.
Roseanne Bongiovanni of the Chelsea Collaborative said she has heard of some people taking the bus to Revere to avoid the bridge.
“Yes, there are definitely concerns and complaints from Chelsea residents about the length of time it takes for the bridge to ‘open and close,’” she said. “Some have told me that they take the bus into Revere to get onto the train there rather than trying to cross the bridge during rush hour traffic to commute into work.”
Eastie Sen. Anthony Petruccelli said earlier this summer that he is pursuing the idea of putting some restrictions on the times when the bridge can go up. He said he would hope that such restrictions could at least cover morning and evening rush hours.
“I’ve heard the complaints,” he said. “We are trying to get to the bottom of the problem. We have had some calls that the bridge is being opened too often during morning the rush hour commute. My office has been working with MassDOT but as of right now there are no regulations that prohibit the bridge from opening and closing during any time of the day.”
Petruccelli said he and his office have researched bridge operations elsewhere that do have opening restrictions placed on them and these restrictions are imposed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“My office is looking at a bridge we found in Fall River that has restrictions similar to what we want to have here,” said Petruccelli. “However, there will always be allowances granted for opening, even with restrictions.”
The issue was first brought to MassDOT’s attention by Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina back in February. In a letter to MassDOT Acting Secretary Frank DePaola, LaMattina expressed his concerns about significant traffic delays that the residents and business owners have been experiencing with the new Chelsea Street Bridge.
“When the new bridge was completed recently the community was informed that traffic delays associated with the new structure would not be longer in comparison to those of the old bascule bridge it replaced,” wrote LaMattina. “However that does not seem to be the case from direct observation of the new bridge’s opening cycles due to a number of factors, some of which appear to be maritime related and others the result of MassDOT bridge procedures.”
While LaMattina said he understands that the installation of a new, complex structure such as the Chelsea Street bridge requires a suitable break-in period to implement new procedures and equipment, he believes that an adequate break-in period has passed for the new bridge and that MassDOT should take whatever steps are necessary to reduce the current unacceptable level of delays from the new Chelsea Street Bridge as soon as feasible.
John Vitagliano, who was a community relations outreach specialist for the bridge during its construction, said he has noted tremendous concerns and will be working with Ambrosino on the solutions.
“There definitely are a lot of concerns from a lot of people,” he said. “We’re just starting to go down this road now in Chelsea and the City of Boston. There are solutions that are out there and the current situation is not something that can continue…I don’t know if vessel restrictions are applicable to this bridge. We’re just starting to think about that. We’ll look at it and see what restrictions would make sense. We just don’t know yet. We do have precedent though with the Fore River Bridge in Quincy for rush hour restrictions. They have restrictions on some vessels, but not all vessels.”
Three key problems, Vitagliano said, are that the bridge has a much more complex operating system that takes longer to cycle through, the bridge is much wider and it takes longer to get people off of the span, and there are more restrictive safety requirements put in place before the bridge can be raised. Those safety requirements come as a result of the tragic killing of a woman on the McArdle Bridge last year as it raised while she was still walking on it.