By Chris Lisinski, Sate House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPTEMBER 20, 2023 (State House News Service) - Add the Tobin Bridge to the list of aging, congested spans that state officials are eyeing for replacement.
Acting Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt informed state officials at a meeting Wednesday that the Healey administration is beginning to plan for the "eventual replacement" of the Tobin Bridge, one of the most highly traveled routes in the state and a gateway linking Boston and communities north of the city.
Tibbits-Nutt said a request for proposals could be released as soon as Friday seeking a transportation planning and engineering consultant that would work on a study examining options for the replacement of the bridge.
Major changes are not imminent, and Tibbits-Nutt suggested the study alone could take two years. On the same day Tibbits-Nutt outlined initial steps toward replacement of the bridge, the Department of Transportation's board approved a $109 million contract for repairs and maintenance to the same structure.
But the forthcoming RFP signals state leaders want to begin turning the gears on what would likely be a massive infrastructure project, one that would impact tens of thousands of commuters per day.
"Repairs are not a permanent solution," Tibbits-Nutt said. "That's why we are releasing the RFP for our planning and engineering team to do a study, which is intended to help us think and gather perspective on the bridge's future while it is still in good working order."
The roughly two-mile bridge, which carries Route 1 over the Mystic River between Charlestown and Chelsea, opened to motorists in 1950. It's one of the most popular -- and most congested -- roadways today, carrying about 87,000 trips on a typical weekday.
It's also the route taken by the MBTA's Route 111 bus, one of the primary modes of public transit connecting Chelsea and Revere to Boston.
Tibbits-Nutt said the Tobin plays a major role in providing "connectivity to the regional transportation network."
"The time is now. I think anyone that's been on the Tobin Bridge -- we need to be taking the steps needed with the planning and engineering decisions to replace the Tobin Bridge with a similar, but also alternative, infrastructure," she said.
Tibbits-Nutt said the envisioned study would feature a "robust public engagement process," including a working group that would invite participation by the cities of Boston and Chelsea, the Massachusetts Port Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Analysts would embark on an environmental review as part of their work as well, exploring potential air quality, greenhouse gas, waterways, environmental justice and ecosystem impacts from a Tobin Bridge replacement, according to Tibbits-Nutt.
The state launched a pilot program in 2020 creating a dedicated bus lane on the bridge. StreetsBlog reported earlier this month that the change improved travel times not only for public transit commuters, but for single-car drivers as well.
Although Tibbits-Nutt said the "scope of this work for the conceptual planning" had already been finalized by MassDOT officials, a spokesperson for the department did not immediately provide additional details about the plans when asked Wednesday.
MassDOT's board on Wednesday approved a contract with Liberty SPS JV for a bit more than $109 million to perform cleaning, painting, and steel and concrete repairs on the Tobin Bridge.
The state already has several other large-scale, pricey transportation projects underway in Boston, including an effort to overhaul road, rail and pedestrian infrastructure near Interstate 90 in Allston and a major campaign to rehabilitate the Sumner Tunnel.
State and local officials are still trying to secure federal funding to help cover replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges over the Cape Cod Canal. Forecast costs for that project continue to swell, now exceeding $4.5 billion, and the Healey administration shifted its strategy last month to focus on securing money for just the Sagamore Bridge first rather than grants covering both bridges.
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