Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fixing `structurally deficient' MBTA Bridges Carries $800M Tab

(SOURCE:  Boston Herald)

Long after the snow melts, commuter rail passengers and subway straphangers will still face widespread slowdowns and delays as the MBTA grapples with nearly 50 crumbling bridges that will cost a staggering $800 million to fix, a Herald review found.

The beleaguered transit agency has classified 48 bridges that carry commuter train and subway passengers as “structurally deficient,” the review found. In all, that’s more than 10 percent of the MBTA’s bridges that are rated in poor condition or worse, according to state transportation officials.

A Red Line bridge at Freeport Street in Dorchester as well as commuter train overpasses at Bacon Street in Wellesley and Lynn Fells Parkway in Melrose were among the spans listed as needing repair or replacement, according to state data.

State officials said train trips have already been slowed for T passengers crossing 13 commuter rail bridges. And experts say others could face dramatically lower speed limits if repairs aren’t made.
The MBTA limits Haverhill line commuter trains to 15 mph over the Merrimack River Bridge, which is still under repair. Passenger trains must slow to 10 mph over the Gloucester Drawbridge, which is expected go out to bid for replacement later this year, officials said.

“That’s the typical thing — you slow the trains down until you can make the repairs,” said James Lambrechts, an engineering professor at Went­worth Institute of Technology. “If they can get someone in there to fix it quickly, then it might mean only delayed trains for a few days or weeks. But the infrastructure itself — parts of it are more than 100 years old.”

Lambrechts pointed to the Red Line trains’ slow 10 mph crawl across the decrepit Longfellow Bridge during the summer of 2008 until repairs were made several months later.

“In extreme cases, they close a bridge,” said Jerome F. Hajjar, chairman of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Northeastern University. “If you’re not able to adequately maintain it, it’s very likely it will continue to deteriorate.”

So far, no T rail bridges have been closed.

Taxpayers could be on the hook for the $800 million bill to fix the failing spans.

T officials currently plan to spend $516 million for bridge repairs over the next five years, but the cost of fixing transit bridges will only continue to soar as more infrastructure ages, experts say.
“There is no question that if we don’t adequately fund our infrastructure, it will continue to break down to the point where the systems will start to have functionality problems and will be slowed,” said Hajjar.

“We live in a climate that has weather like this year after year in varying degrees, and that is part of what is degrading these bridges,” he said. “The more extreme the weather over time, the quicker it will probably degrade.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed giving the MBTA $187 million in state aid in the coming fiscal year — a better than 50 percent funding increase from this year but still not enough to fix all the T bridges.
The number of dangerous rail spans has skyrocketed by 30 percent in the past four years, the review found. The MBTA reported 40 of its bridges were structurally deficient in 2010.

“These numbers still reflect a large amount of work ahead of us to ensure a safe, reliable and efficient transportation system,” said MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes.

MassDOT officials have estimated a whopping $7 billion price tag to bring the transportation system into a “state of good repair,” which includes repairs on dilapidated bridges.

The MBTA maintains 302 commuter rail bridges and 57 subway bridges, according to MassDOT officials. The agency also oversees more than 100 other bridges, including one pedestrian and three highway bridges also labeled structurally deficient, according to transportation data.

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