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Erector redux

Big, tall, and much like the current one, the design for the new Fore River Bridge dismays many

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / May 9, 2010

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On many days, rush-hour traffic on Route 3A in Quincy comes to a stop as the Fore River Bridge slowly rises to allow an oil tanker to pass underneath. The mammoth steel bridge responsible for this familiar and frustrating interruption is temporary, although South Shore drivers who have been traveling over it for almost eight years now — and getting stuck there when it opens — might quibble with that term.

But the state is speeding up efforts to change that, and if all goes according to plan, a permanent bridge spanning the Fore River channel will be in place in five years.

Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods can’t wait to see the temporary bridge (nicknamed the Erector Set by locals) come down. But they also worry about what will take its place.

After ruling out a tunnel or fixed crossing as being too expensive and disruptive, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation was left with two options: a bascule bridge (a double drawbridge similar to the old bridge) or a vertical lift bridge, which has a midsection that moves up and down (like the temporary bridge that is there now).

The vertical lift design was selected.

“We will be proposing the vertical lift as the preferred bridge type in the environmental assessment to be filed later this summer,’’ said MassDOT spokesman Adam Hurtubise, in an e-mail.

State officials say the permanent vertical lift bridge will require fewer openings, will be easier to maintain, and will allow the shipping channel to be widened by 75 feet. It will open and close faster, and provide a quieter ride than the temporary steel structure. And they say it will be attractive and “nothing like the current temporary span.’’

But many residents prefer the double drawbridge because it would have a lower profile. And that was the style of the old Fore River Bridge, which was built in 1936. It had been eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places but had to be demolished in 2004, two years after the crumbling span was closed to traffic.

The Fore River, used for both commercial and recreational marine traffic, provides access to two local yacht clubs, a boatyard and marina, the former shipyard property, and the Citgo tank farm in Braintree.

Victor Pap III, District 1 councilor for the town of Weymouth, is disappointed that officials are recommending the vertical lift design when so many residents would like to see the old drawbridge-style span return to the Fore River.

“I think some of us are disappointed with the recommendation by MassDOT and how it’s being presented to the public as a fait accompli,’’ said Pap. “Nobody wants to have a long commute time, but we’re the ones who have to live here and look at it.’’

“The rendering I saw made me cringe,’’ said Pap. “If you’re going toward it, you’re going to see a nice, historic, mainstream, aesthetically pleasing gateway to the South Shore, or you’re going to see Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2010.’ ’’ Pap said he was also concerned that the choice of bridge design appeared to be driven by the potential for widening the channel.

“We had a historic bridge here . . . and that was something that fits in with this historic area. You have Quincy, the City of Presidents, and Weymouth, one of the oldest communities in the country — why put something that looks like a futuristic vessel between the two? Just to allow extra barrels of oil to get across?’’

State officials solicited and received feedback from people in favor of both styles.

“We took all that feedback into account when we made our recommendation for a vertical lift bridge,’’ said Hurtubise, in an e-mail. “Much of the public input has been from an aesthetic standpoint, but a bascule bridge would require more openings to allow ships to go under because of its lower vertical clearances when in the closed position.’’

The design team determined that a bascule bridge over the Fore River would provide 41 feet of vertical clearance if it is in the closed position, while a vertical lift bridge could provide up to 58.5 feet of vertical clearance, allowing for more room for ships to pass underneath.

Sandra Gildea, vice president of the North Weymouth Civic Association, has lived in that neighborhood since 1965. She said many residents would prefer a bridge that looks more like the 1936 bridge, and less like the steel structure that’s there now.

“We don’t want those girders sticking up in the air every day of our lives,’’ she said.

“This is a very historic community. We are the gateway to the South Shore, it should look good — and it hasn’t for a really long time. We just want something that’s suitable for the community. . . . We don’t see what the problem is with a bascule bridge.’’

The Fore River Bridge is a hot topic, she said. “Everywhere you go, people talk about it.’’

Gildea hopes state and federal officials will listen to the feedback that residents have offered during public meetings.

She said: “Are we accommodating the residents, or are we accommodating Citgo?’’

“We don’t want this to be a done deal,’’ she said. “We feel we should have some input into what kind of bridge it is and what it looks like.’’

The estimated cost of the bridge replacement project is $255 million. Construction could begin as early as 2011, with completion set for 2015.

The new span will be constructed in three stages. The movable span of the new bridge would be built next to the temporary bridge, and then the approach ramps would be connected to the permanent bridge. Once complete, the temporary steel bridge will be taken down.

The new bridge will have four lanes for vehicles (two in each direction), bike lanes, and sidewalks for pedestrians. It is expected to last 75 years.

The North Weymouth Civic Association is holding an open house Thursday at the Whipple Senior Center on Green Street in North Weymouth.

Gildea said the public is welcome to attend, and the civic group plans to conduct an informal survey on the different bridge designs during the meeting. Gildea said the open house starts at 7 p.m. and will continue “till the coffee’s gone.’’

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

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