Bridge repair delays could send funds to Rte. 128 add-a-lane project

Patrick Anderson

The Massachusetts Highway Department is postponing reconstruction of two aging bridges in Dedham and one in Marlborough that state inspectors have said are in serious need of repair.

The two Dedham bridges, which span the Charles River at Rte. 109 and Ames Street, and the Marlborough bridge, which crosses the Assabet River at Robin Hill Street, are slated to receive a combined $17.4 million for repairs from the state and federal government.

With the bridges postponed, the funds that would have been used on them would go toward paying for the Rte. 128 add-a-lane project in Dedham, Needham, Westwood and Canton. Work on a $3.1 million bridge on Whitney Street in Sherborn is being moved up a year.

MassHighway spokesman Erik Abell said Tuesday that both the Ames Street bridge in Dedham and the Robin Hill Street bridge in Marlborough have been listed as ``structurally deficient'' by state inspectors, the most severe grade a bridge can receive without being closed. The Rte. 109 bridge is in slightly better condition, he said.

``Structurally deficient means a bridge is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to be repaired,'' Abell said. ``But although it is the bottom rating, it does not indicate safety concerns for the public.''

Abell said MassHighway was pushing back funding of the three projects from this federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, to next year out of concerns they were not ready for construction.

``If a project is scheduled for one year and it is not ready, getting the funding transferred to another year can delay it even more,'' Abell said. The Ames Street bridge, which is a stone arch design and was originally scheduled for repair in 2006, is undergoing further work to shore up the structure during construction and eliminate safety concerns for workers, Abell said.

The Robin Hill Street bridge job was being delayed because it needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Rte. 109 bridge, the closest to beginning construction, was pushed back out of a general concern it might not be ready to be bid on by contractors before the end of September, Abell said.

The funding for all three bridges was included in a regional Transportation Improvement Plan developed by the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group of state and local officials that channel transportation money throughout eastern Massachusetts.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization must approve the postponements and will hold a public comment period before voting on them Sept. 6.

The two Dedham projects, estimated to cost $13.3 million, are slated to receive around 80 percent of their funding from the federal government and 20 percent from the state. The $4 million Robin Hill Street project will be entirely funded by the state.

Dedham Town Administrator William Keegan yesterday said that he did not have enough information about MassHighway's decision to comment, but that David Field, the town's director of engineering, was looking into the issue.

Marlborough Mayor Nancy Stevens said city officials had been working on some right-of way issues with the Robin Hill Street Bridge, but she had not been told by MassHighway if that was a reason to delay the project.

The MassHighway changes to the Transportation Improvement Plan would also postpone work on a $1 million bridge project on Alford Street in Boston and delay the $7.3 million reconstruction of Pleasant Street in Watertown.