Hike funding

Infrastructure funding covers vital works on bridges

The start of National Transportation Week served as the backdrop for Monday’s appearance by U.S. Representative for the 3rd District Lori Trahan, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale and other officials to highlight investments in the infrastructure in this city made possible by funding from the Federal Infrastructure Act.

These federal funds will be used to preserve the Circle Street Bridge and the Water Street Bridge over the Nashua River, and to replace the Water Street Bridge over Boulder Drive and the Pan Am Railroad.

These Fitchburg bridges are just a few of hundreds across the state that are in dire need of attention.

A previous report in November by the Boston Herald said 472 of the state’s 5,229 bridges were deemed “structurally deficient,” according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. Massachusetts ranks fourth among the worst states in the nation for maintaining its bridges. There are 4,843 bridges nationwide in need of repairs with a collective cost of $15.4 billion, according to the report.

Signed into law last December, the infrastructure bill provided more than $9.5 billion to Massachusetts, including more than $1 billion explicitly for bridge repairs.

Closed to vehicular traffic since last summer, the Circle Street Bridge is in a state of chronic disrepair, with multiple open areas in the concrete where the Nashua River can be seen below. The aging Water Street Bridges, built in 1900 and 1937, each carry more than 20,000 cars a day, providing vital access to the city.

According to Trahan, a Westford Democrat, the Circle Street Bridge project will receive $2.6 million in infrastructure funding, supplemented by an additional $661,000 from the state.

The money will be used to replace the bridge’s steel girders and add a reinforced concrete deck, as well as accessible ramps on the south side of the bridge.

More than $15 million in federal funds will be used for the Water Street bridges, bolstered by an additional $4 million from the state. While the Boulder Drive Bridge and Pan Am Railroad will be replaced, the Nashua River Span will receive similar treatment to the Circle Street Bridge.

According to MassDOT District Engineer Barry Lorion, the Circle Street Bridge will be announced for construction in August, with a goal of completion in 2023. He also said the Water Street Bridge replacement is “ approximately 50% designed,” while the two bridges would be announced for construction in 2024.

Trahan also said she looks forward to future infrastructure projects, including future Route 2 upgrades or continued construction of the Twin Cities Rail Trail.

DiNatale thanked Trahan for his ongoing work to secure much-needed federal funds for the city and the state as a whole. State Sen. John Cronin, D-Lunenburg, who also attended, applauded Trahan and said that because of his work, Fitchburg has seen “a greater flow of federal funding than ever since the New Deal.”

While Mayor DiNatale and other on-site officials should be rightly excited about the prospects of these bridge projects, we advise them to remain realistic about the chances of them being completed on time and within budget.

The supply chain issues caused by COVID have particularly affected the construction industry. Backlogs of material orders lengthened lead times and drove up costs.

For example, the Central Street Bridge project in Lowell, a gateway to downtown Lowell, has been delayed for several months due to problems with the supply of iron and other materials needed for repairs.

Lowell’s new city manager, Tom Golden, a recently resigned state representative and longtime member of Lowell’s State House delegation, has made repairing the bridge one of his top priorities.

But rather than pouring cold water on these encouraging developments, let’s remain cautiously optimistic and focus on the benefits Fitchburg will derive from completing these bridge upgrades.