Throughout his time in office, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell has been tirelessly campaigning the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a replacement for the aging and increasingly unreliable New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge.

Only weeks ago, the bridge was out of commission for hours on a busy Friday afternoon, further proof that it was time for the bridge that first opened 122 years ago to be replaced.

The time has finally come, but Mitchell said it’s more important than ever for citizens to remain involved in the process of replacing the bridge.

The announcement came Wednesday from Rep. Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett), chair of the transportation committee, that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is beginning the process to design and permit a replacement for the bridge, which carries Route 6 over the Acushnet River and connects New Bedford to Fairhaven along the waterfront.

“It’s important to point out that Mayor Mitchell has been tireless in his advocacy for this project and I cannot recall a legislative delegation meeting where he has failed to bring this up,” Straus said in his press release.

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Mitchell said it was good that Governor Charlie Baker’s administration was finally dedicated to what will likely be a $100 million-plus project.

“It is big news, and it’s about 60 years in the making,” Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday. “It has been troubling to me that it’s an asset that has been ignored for a long time, so I’m glad it’s taking this step forward.”

“Our city deserves the best, and we should insist on it,” he said.

Mitchell said the design phase is just the first step in the process, but it means there will definitely be a new bridge at some point in the near future.

“This may sound a little crass, but proceeding to the design phase, for people like me who push for projects like this all the time, is, as they say, getting the project ‘pregnant,’” he said. “Once you’ve designed it, it’s hard for the state to say, ‘You know, we’re not going to go forward with it now.’ So that’s why it’s significant.”

“How fast it goes forward will really be subject to what we expect,” he said. “Now that this thing is being designed, everybody should say, ‘Ok build it now, and not back off.’”

Mitchell said that as the process moves forward, there are a few things people need to keep in mind.

“One is that we want a bridge that functions well. We want it to open and close reliably, we want there to be enough clearance so that it doesn’t have to open at all when small boats go through,” he said. “We want the opening to be wide enough so that large vessels, larger than ones that can reach the northern part of the harbor, can go through. That’s important. I think that’s going to happen no matter what.”

He said the other thing to consider is how much this bridge will be identified with New Bedford for decades to come.

“This is going to be a very prominent feature in the port, in the city. All the thousands and thousands of cars that go through it all the time, everybody’s going to look at it, and it’s got to look good,” Mitchell said.

“We’ve worked very hard in my administration to insist that when the state builds something, or we build something, or private developers build something in our city, it has to look good,” he said. “It has to be becoming of this important place called New Bedford, Massachusetts.”

Mitchell said the City of New Bedford has been going through a similar design phase for the pedestrian bridge that will be built to cross Route 18 from Purchase Street to the Whale’s Tooth parking lot.

“That’s taken a lot of work, a lot of contentious conversations over the last several months, but we apply the same standards there that we apply everywhere,” he said. “If you’re building in New Bedford, it’s got to look good.”

While people may shrug off this announcement as something akin to South Coast Rail – in which the promises came 30 years before the reality – Mitchell said this situation is different.

“What’s different about this project, and this is significant, is that doing nothing is expensive,” he said, noting that the 2014 study of the bridge said it would cost $46 million just to fix the bridge as it currently stands. “That doesn’t make any sense…this current bridge is going to fall apart at some point, and it will have to be replaced.”

With the ball finally rolling on a new bridge, Mitchell wants the public to remain involved in the process to ensure New Bedford gets the bridge it deserves.

“And so I would ask that people, when the design phase comes out and public hearings are had as a result of this, that people have high standards,” he said. “Make it work well, make it look good. We should demand nothing less.”

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