FAIRHAVEN — The New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge has been in almost constant use since 1903.
And while motorists sometimes feel like they’ve spent much of that time waiting for the swing bridge to allow ships to close so they can continue, it allows for thousands of vehicle trips a day.
In fact, it currently has around 11,500 vehicle trips per day, 500 each way per hour at peak times.
And from 2013 to 2021, it recorded an average of 5,000 openings per year for navigation, allowing access to fishing boats, pleasure boats, tugs, tows and tankers.
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This information was provided by Joseph Breen, MassDOT project manager for the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge Replacement Project, during a public information meeting at Fairhaven High School on Monday. The aim was not only to provide information, but also to gather community feedback in the early stages of the project.
A similar meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 6:30-8 p.m., in the auditorium of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, 1121 Ashley Blvd.
How will the new bridge be paid for?
With $100 million approved for the undertaking, MassDOT officials are progressing the design with leading bridge engineering firm, Modjeski and Masters Inc.
State Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who is chairman of the House Joint Committee on Transportation, noted that the Legislature had approved $100 million in state funding for the design/development replacement of the bridge through the transportation and climate bill over the summer, as the governor. Baker signed the law.
Its replacement has been a priority, he noted, due to its deterioration and rising costs to keep it in service.
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When will the new bridge be finished?
Breen said the current schedule, which includes more opportunities for public participation, is geared towards construction in 2027. “We’re in the very early stages of that process,” he said.
In the meantime, many things need to be decided, including the type of bridge that will be built based on cost, functionality and aesthetic merits – a swing bridge like the current bridge, a tilting bridge that looks more like a bridge- drawbridge or vertical lift bridge such as the River Fore Bridge between Quincy and Weymouth.
Although early in the process, Breen said goals were identified, including:
- rebuild the bridge to ensure a 75-year lifespan;
- minimize disruption to bridge users during construction;
- eliminate functional impairments that include long opening hours that cause delays for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists;
- set the minimum clearance below deck that requires opening for most vessels;
- addressing the narrow shipping channels blocking large vessels and the location of the central jetty which increases the potential for ship strikes;
- widening of existing sidewalks.
Breen noted that complete road closures and detours will be required during construction. A navigation channel will be maintained throughout, although there will be short-term closures coordinated with the US Coast Guard.
Fairhaven Select chairman Stasia Powers said: ‘This bridge is really essential infrastructure for both of our communities’, especially with the arrival of South Coast Rail and increased vehicular traffic.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the project is a long time coming. He said a 2014 study called the bridge functionally obsolete.
He said four goals should be at the fore: improving functionality for vehicles, pedestrians and vessels; make it sustainable; minimize disturbances during the process; and look”.
“Aesthetics matter,” he said. If a vertical lift option is chosen, “it would be extremely important”. Such a structure should be an icon, not an eyesore, he said.
Fairhaven Select board member Leon Correy asked MassDOT to use its resources to help small businesses that will be affected by the work by providing information on the economic impacts as it unfolds. project progress.