A View from the Winter Street Bridge

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Winter Street

Bridge construction site in Waltham, Massachusetts, with MassDOT Project Engineer Kirk Elwell. Kirk is an experienced “bridge builder” with recent responsibility for completing the Zakim Bridge in Boston, part of the Central Artery Project. It may have been no accident that MassDOT turned to an experienced professional to take over the infamous Winter Street Bridge Project and tackle what one local resident referred to as “the never -ending bridge project.” The long history of this project includes the financial collapse of the original contractor, the need to complete the project under the jurisdiction of the bonding agent, as well as delays encountered due to a myriad of utility conduits located under the bridge- water, gas, and hundreds of telecom lines.

As Director of the 128 Corporate Alliance, I am sensitive to the fact that our member companies send thousands of their employees over and around the Bridge every day. Plain and simple- the Winter Street Bridge has been a huge headache for those who travel across it as well as thousands who must pass below it every day on Route 128. As real estate consultants in the region, T3 Advisors helped form the Alliance to engage corporate space users in the region and address challenges like the Winter Street Bridge debacle. The goal is simple- we need to manage infrastructure projects that support the dynamic growth along the 128 corridor.

While driver frustration levels continue to run high, I am happy to report that the view on the other side of the construction barriers is encouraging. The concrete beams are all in place- the result of much work completed during off hours to alleviate travel delays. The decking is also in place and the project was mobilizing last week to tie the reinforcing steel and begin pouring concrete. The final layer will be the two applications of asphalt paving- which will ultimately open up seven lanes to future traffic.

At the same time, Kirk is overseeing the work to complete the Second Avenue intersection with sophisticated new traffic signaling and a 1/2 mile Collector- Distributor road that will move entering and exiting traffic off Route 128. I liken this parallel road to the expansive exit lane in Burlington that helps manage the traffic flow at the 95/Route 3/ Middlesex Turnpike intersection at the Burlington Mall. I think the “CD Road” as it is called by the construction team will add an important dimension to the traffic flow.

Now, I will really “put my neck on the line and offer a prediction”: I think the MassDOT, the bonding agent- XL Specialty, and their contractor- McCourt Construction will complete the project by the August 19, 2011 deadline. Yes, you read that correctly- this August- just 4 months hence. Finally, “the never -ending bridge project” may actually come to end. A bold prediction I admit, given the sorted past of the project; but in speaking with Kirk, and sizing up the extensive work that is not clearly visible there may be light at the end of the bridge. Then what? First we should pause and celebrate the completion of this project with Kirk and his team, the Mayor and representatives of the commuting public. Then we can turn our attention one intersection south- to Exit 26- and make sure that the lessons learned on Winter Street are well applied before undertaking the next big bridge project along this busy corridor.

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