Community members packed into the North End’s Nazzaro Center to hear updates from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) on the North Washington Street Bridge (i.e., Charlestown Bridge) replacement project. The $177 million project has been approved to replace the current bridge between the North End and Charlestown. The existing bridge is in a dire state with overnight lane closures and significantly reduced capacity. The new design, as previously presented, will feature widened sidewalks, separated bike lanes, bus rapid transit lanes, and landscaping between pedestrians/bicyclists and vehicular traffic.
Construction Plans and Traffic Changes
For the most part, the construction will still allow for at least three lanes to remain open, however, a 12-month period (stage 1B, shown below) will have only a single lane for access in and out of the city. During the construction period, there will be crossings open in both directions for traffic, yet at some stages the lanes will need to be reduced.
Left turns onto Commercial Street will be prohibited for most of the construction period and traffic will be redirected down Thacher Street, Hanover Street or Atlantic Ave. to loop back around. This traffic change will bring more traffic into the interior North End.
Work begins this summer and continues in 6 major stages through late 2022. As shown in the pictures below, the construction will flip from one side to the other, so that traffic can flow on the open side (the work zones are noted as the dark gray rectangles pictured below).
Pedestrians will always have one sidewalk available on either the locks or harbor side of the bridge. Cyclists will generally share lanes with traffic, but as with the Longfellow Bridge project, they may be required to share with pedestrians in some stages.
Traffic details will be assigned to direct travelers in the major intersections, such as Keany Square, City Square, and along Chelsea Street. MassDOT told residents that there will be a Resident Engineer on site to enforce contract specifications for dust, noise and rodent control.
MassDOT reps said they plan to partner with the Highway Division and the MBTA to identify potential schedule conflicts and impacts to the public during the construction period. Their goal is to be able to provide drivers with accurate information early on in an attempt to reduce regional traffic and hopefully maximize the limited bridge capacity. Their outreach will consist of frequent email and website updates, with meetings 30 days before major work milestones. Drivers will also be targeted in specific regions to reduce traffic.
Community Feedback and Considerations
Meeting participants raised several concerns, specifically criticizing the change in traffic pattern that would stop left turns from the bridge onto Commercial Street in the North End. This change forces traffic down Thacher Street or all the way around to Hanover Street and Atlantic Avenue.
Residents focused on the following suggestions:
–Reconsider the decision to prohibit traffic from taking a left turn onto Commercial Street, as this will cause traffic issues throughout the neighborhood and is not a viable option for an extended period of time.
–Provide an additional traffic detail for the intersection of North Washington Street and Thatcher Street.
–The Endicott Street traffic light is already causing a backup at Keany Square intersection.
–Notify airport traffic about construction so that these travellers are finding alternate routes that avoid the tunnel.
–Ensure that the remaining sidewalks on the bridge are wide enough for two way traffic (taking into consideration people walking with strollers or bicycles).
–Look into signaling technology for buses or consider other ways to make the traffic merge from the bus lane easier and safer for all.
–Expand ferry hours and advertise this option to tourists in Charlestown to minimize pedestrian bridge traffic as well.
The presentation slides from the April 19, 2018 MassDOT meeting are shown below.
See more NorthEndWaterfront.com coverage of the North Washington Street / Charlestown Bridge here.