Massachusetts Officials: New Bedford Bridge Construction Could Start in 2027
FAIRHAVEN — At the first public hearing on a $100 million project to build a new bridge connecting New Bedford and Fairhaven, state transportation officials outlined a tentative project timeline that would see construction start in 2027.
MassDOT officials on Monday told residents that the much-maligned 120-year-old landmark sees around 11,500 vehicles travel over it per day and opens just under 5,000 times per year on average.
Construction on the bridge began at the end of the 19th century. Since its completion in 1903, officials said, it has been repaired or rehabilitated more than seven times, with multiple series of interim repairs taking place between 1932 and 1983.
Project Studies and Early Design Phase
Studies on replacing or relocating the bridge — or changing traffic flows around it —have been done around 10 times, with the first bridge replacement study conducted in 1965.
Project manager and MassDOT engineer Joseph Breen led the meeting at Fairhaven High School on Monday evening, presenting a rough sketch of the design process in which a 25% design plan would be submitted for approval in two years.
The early-stage plans would include traffic and other impact studies as well as very preliminary designs for a new bridge.
He introduced residents to the replacement project goals, namely to build something that will last at least 75 years while minimizing disruptions (by making it taller and designing it to open faster and less often.)
Four main types of movable bridge are being considered: a swing bridge, like the current one; a bascule bridge or drawbridge; a Dutch-style bascule bridge, which has a counterweight connected to the bridge deck; or a vertical lift bridge, which raises the deck up like an elevator.
Design and Construction
No matter what type and design is chosen, Breen noted, at some point during construction a full road closure will be necessary to replace the bridge, although the length of time will depend on the project design.
But before any of that can take place, various studies — including on traffic and environmental impacts, among others — must be completed.
If all goes according to plan, construction is currently anticipated to begin sometime in 2027, officials said, with $100 million in funding for the project already approved as part of the state's transportation bond bill.
Some of the funding will also come from the federal government.
Response from officials
State Rep. Bill Straus, the chair of the legislature's transportation committee, was among a group of elected officials who also spoke at the meeting.
"This has been a long time coming," he said, adding that the public will continue to be consulted for input as the project goes on.
"The process requires by law that there be input continuously, as the design is formulated."
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who said that some years ago he wrote a term paper in college about replacing the bridge, which he called "beautiful" but also "antiquated."
The mayor went on to outline four priorities for the project: to improve functionality, to account for climate change-related flooding and ensure sustainability, to minimize disruption, and to make sure it looks good.
"Aesthetics count," Mitchell said, adding that this would be especially important if the new bridge is a prominent vertical lift design.
"It could either be an eyesore, something we're embarrassed about and stuck with for a hundred years, or it can be an icon," he said. "It can be something we're really proud of."
The meeting was the first of two this week scheduled as part of a community outreach effort, and members of the public made their voices heard.
Officials were asked about everything from the PCB pollution-filled CAD cells in the harbor north of the bridge to economic studies on how the replacement project could affect local businesses.
Some also asked if a bridge is even needed there at all.
Others asked why the process would take so long.
"I have been using that bridge for about 70 years," said a man who identified himself as Bob Gendreau. "It is going to take five years to have a design, and God knows how many years after that to actually build it...I think we're reinventing the wheel."
"I'd like to cut the process short here," he added. "I know that's going to reduce some consulting revenue, but so be it."
The second meeting will take place at Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech on Thursday.