City officials gave a design preview of the new Northern Avenue bridge to the Wharf District Council this week in a presentation entitled “Boston Bold: A People First Experience.”
The old Northern Ave. bridge was deemed a navigation hazard by the USCG (United States Coast Guard) and closed in 2014. After preliminary meetings, officials said the bridge would be rebuilt with a “people-first approach”, limiting usage to pedestrians and cyclists. That decision has since been revised to include emergency vehicles and dedicated bus/shuttle service.
Appearing via Zoom, Chris Osgood, the City’s Chief of Streets and Joseph Fleury, Principal Bridge Engineer, described the project’s history and design principles. Acknowledging the current state of the bridge from a structural standpoint (referring to certain parts of it as swiss cheese), Osgood outlined rehabilitation efforts and drew comparisons to work done on the nearby Congress St Bridge.
The newly chosen design makes use of what are referred to as “ribbons” dividing bridge traffic in two. The harbor-facing side will be exclusively for pedestrian use, while the second side facing the Moakley bridge will serve a single bus/shuttle line as well as cyclists and emergency vehicles.
Choosing to place cyclists in the bus and emergency vehicle lane was a decision reached with pedestrian safety in mind, according to City Engineer Para Jayasinghe.
Referencing the debate revolving around the exclusion of single-use vehicles, Jayasinghe explained how ongoing civic engagement has shaped decision-making, along with the City’s evolving stance on shared transit.
With sentiment being gauged, residents polled and positions laid out by several organizations, the cost factor associated with accomodating full vehicular traffic attracted its fair share of controversy, with prior estimates for a 42ft one car-lane costing between $56-100 million, while a 56ft option with two available motor vehicle lanes costing upwards of $110 million.
Jayasinghe was challenged by the WDC on whether enough modeling had been done to fully account for potential impacts to everyday commutes especially in and around Atlantic Avenue. The need for clearer differentiation regarding the designated lanes was put forward, and it was asked if a dedicated bus lane on Atlantic Avenue would help to prevent potential gridlock.
WDC member Joanne Hayes-Rines asked whether a new traffic light would need to be installed on the Atlantic Avenue side. Jayasinghe replied that a signal warrant analysis had been performed, with current data indicating that a new light is unnecessary. Sublevel work is being performed in case the situation changes.
Possible directionality issues were highlighted, with many wondering whether there had been enough analysis performed to measure results in terms of emergency traffic.
Officials anticipate construction to begin in early 2021 with a ribbon-cutting slated for 2022.