Temp Lagoon Pond bridge progresses
Instead of waiting with bated breath while stopped for the opening and closing of the aging, sporadically unreliable Lagoon Pond drawbridge, motorists can distract themselves with a look at the visible progress on the construction of its adjacent replacement.
The east and west approach spans are now in place for the new temporary drawbridge and the installation of decking is underway, according to drawbridge committee chairman Melinda Loberg.
"They're starting to put cement into the approach spans, and it's going to look like a bridge pretty soon," Ms. Loberg said in a phone call last Friday. "In the next couple of weeks, they're going to start building the cantilevered walkway for the approach spans, so people should really begin to see some things take shape, after all this time of infrastructure planning and work. Now we're going to get to see some real bridge work."
Over the next several weeks various site work, including installation of drainage, electrical conduit installation, and roadway work, will continue, according to a spokesman from MassHighway.
Since some of the roadwork will involve traffic disruptions with lane closures, Ms. Loberg said it will not be scheduled in August the Island's busiest month.
Instead, Pihl, the temporary bridge construction contractor, requested and received permission to do the work over a period of three to four nights, tentatively between the hours of 10 pm and 3 am.
Information about the work schedule and scope of work will be provided well in advance to public officials in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, including public safety personnel and departments of public works, as well as to the public through the Island news media, Ms. Loberg said.
"The people who live near the bridge have to be taken into consideration, too," she added. "I don't think it will be hugely noisy, but there will be lights, and that will be an inconvenience."
Ms. Loberg said several pedestrians and bicyclists have voiced concerns after crossing the bridge that sand on the roadway poses a safety hazard. Sand continuously blows up onto the road from a dune near the bridge, Ms. Loberg explained.
"I will say that we have been talking to MassHighway and the contractors continually about that sand, and they do take pains to blow it off and sweep it off on pretty much a continuous basis, but it's not totally successful," Ms. Loberg said. "I think bicyclists in particular should take precautions if they're riding on that path. The best method of approaching this bridge, at least for the remainder of the high season, is to walk your bicycle over it."
Now that the approach spans are in place, the center span will not be far behind. Ms. Loberg said the center span and the mechanisms to raise it are under construction off-Island and will likely be installed in late fall.
The existing drawbridge was built over a two-year period from 1934 to 1935. It remains to this day a key link between Tisbury and Oak Bluffs and to access to the ferry and hospital.
The Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) announced plans in 2003 to replace the failing drawbridge by first building a temporary bridge alongside it. Then the existing bridge would be demolished and a permanent bridge built in its place.
The plans created controversy among the Tisbury selectmen and members of the drawbridge committee that a temporary bridge would remain in use longer than promised by state officials and possibly end up being the permanent replacement.
A number of Islanders, including the Tisbury selectmen, asked MassHighway officials to reexamine the state's plans before moving ahead with any work on the drawbridge.
MassHighway put the project on hold for about seven and a half months to consider the Island group's concerns, the chief one being that the state would abandon plans for a permanent replacement bridge or lose funding once a temporary bridge was built.
In January 2006 MassHighway commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky met with the drawbridge committee to announce that she had reviewed the plans and that the state would move ahead with the two-bridge proposal.
Pihl, a construction contracting firm in Quincy that specializes in civil engineering projects, was awarded the contract for the temporary bridge construction project. Work began in the fall of 2007.
"I'm happy to report they're right on schedule," Ms. Loberg said. "The temporary replacement bridge contract calls for completion by May 2010, and includes complete removal and carting away of our current bridge. So the anticipation is that the replacement bridge will be in place and tested and car-worthy long before that."
The entire drawbridge project is scheduled for completion in 2013. The cost of the temporary bridge is estimated at $9.3 million and the permanent bridge at $35.7 million.
"I will say that MassHighway still continues to reassure us that the cost of this bridge is in their budget projections for their planned budgets out when they need it, and that this bridge project is one project, and not two separate ones," Ms. Loberg said.
The drawbridge committee continues to raise that issue at every opportunity, she added.
"And it's not that they don't see it being done in any future, it's that 2013 is coming awfully fast and they aren't that far along with their permitting process yet or their design process," Ms. Loberg said. "But they will not be able to extend their permit for the temporary bridge from the Coast Guard indefinitely."
While the temporary bridge replacement is underway, planning for the permanent bridge has been ongoing, Ms. Loberg said. Parsons Transportation Group, the overall contractor in charge of design and most of the planning for the permanent bridge, has been working on engineering to reach the 25 percent design stage.
"The next big important step is for the Island as a whole to weigh in on the design of the permanent bridge," Ms. Loberg said. "Our committee had some architectural discussions with the Parsons team and we've instructed them to develop three variations on the theme of aesthetic qualities of the bridge that will be presented to the public, probably in October."
The public meeting also will address other amenities proposed for the bridge and the area around it to improve access and recreation, including fishing platforms, walkways, and bike path connections.
"Once the public has a chance to weigh in on the design aspects of the permanent bridge, which are probably what most people are interested in, and everyone is comfortable with what is decided, the engineering will be completed," Ms. Loberg said.