Lagoon Pond drawbridge is on target to open at the end of 2015

The recent addition of steel beams is a harbinger of spring as work progresses, despite winter woes.

Workers are forging ahead after a tough winter. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Construction on the new, permanent Lagoon Pond drawbridge made good progress over the winter, despite multiple snowstorms and harsh conditions, Melinda Loberg, chairman of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge committee (LPDC), told The Times in a phone call Monday.

“They keep telling me they’re on schedule,” Ms. Loberg said of the contractor, Middlesex Corp. of Littleton. “The bridge is supposed to open by the end of 2015.”

The drawbridge project is funded and managed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), which selected Parsons Corp. as the design firm.

Ms. Loberg said although the construction crew had to take some days off due to dangerously cold temperatures and high winds, as well as snowstorms, those types of situations were anticipated in the scheduling.

“I bet they can’t wait for the weather to be decent again, because it has been grueling for them,” she said.

The work completed over the winter consisted of bridge substructure construction, MassDOT deputy press secretary Amanda Richard said in an email response to questions from The Times.

“While the on-site work was subject to the winter elements, the contractor was able to continue on schedule with only minor delays associated with the winter storms,” she said. “Off-site work proceeded on the bridge control system, bridge machinery, and the steel as it was preformed in manufacturing facilities and thus not affected by the winter weather.”

The progress is evident, Ms. Loberg said.

“You can see the approach roads are beginning to take shape,” she said. “They’ve been working on the retaining walls, the riprap, and the seawall on the Tisbury side, part of which they had to rebuild.”

Regarding the next phase of construction, Ms. Loberg said, “I think what happens now is stuff that’s really visible, that people can go, ‘Aha,’ because all the rest of it was foundational and hidden, and preparatory work.”

A significant addition visible this week is steel beams laid on the approach from Oak Bluffs, Ms. Loberg said yesterday. The beams stop short of the center so that an opening remains, in alignment with the section of the temporary bridge that opens to allow boat traffic in and out of Lagoon Pond over the summer.

Ms. Loberg said she has found it especially interesting to watch the bridge tender’s house emerge from the water.

“They’ve taken out the walls around it so the water is actually surrounding it now, and they’re going to start building that up,” she said. “And you’re going to see something pretty interesting, because I think that is probably one of the main features people picture when they think about the bridge.”

Over the next two weeks, Ms. Richard said the contractor will be working on the approach retaining walls and completion of the bascule pier to the machinery room floor elevation.The next bascule steel to be installed on the project should begin in the next three to four week. MassDOT is currently on schedule for meeting the total project’s completion date, which is the summer of 2016, Ms. Richard said.

Next phase

With the permanent bridge’s construction on track for completion by the end of the year, Ms. Loberg said the contractor is requesting permission for crews to work double shifts starting in October.

“One of the things they anticipate is that in October they will get to the point where they’re ready to put in the final span and then open the new bridge,” Ms. Loberg explained. “But the problem is that they can’t build the final span while the current bridge we’re using goes up and down for boats. So for the final part they have to build, they need the bridge closed, not to automobile traffic, just to big-boat traffic.”

Small boats would still be able to travel in and out of Lagoon Pond through the side channels.

The temporary bridge would have to remain in the closed position starting Oct. 1, and work on the new bridge would have to be completed, in order to dismantle the temporary bridge by a deadline of Jan. 31, 2016, Ms. Loberg said. That leaves a lot to do in a short time, she pointed out, further complicated by state department of marine fisheries regulations. Work that would impede or disturb the flow of water in the construction area is restricted from Jan. 15 through May 31 to protect the spawning and juvenile development of winter flounder and shellfish.

“They have to build the final two spans, and then they have to test the bridge and open it so that traffic can go on it, and then they have to tear down the bridge we’re driving on now,” she said. “So that’s why they’ve asked for double shifts during that period, October through mid-January.”

Ms. Loberg said although the decision to allow double shifts is up to MassDOT, the contractor has always been courteous in asking the bridge committee their opinions as issues arise.

“The bridge committee is meeting next week to discuss all these things, with the right authorities, to give them our yes or no,” Ms. Loberg said. “But it seems reasonable, because the last thing we want, frankly, as an Island, is to have this delayed to the next year. We don’t want that to happen.”

The LPDC will meet at 10 am on April 8 at the MVC offices. Ms. Loberg said the committee also will be discussing some design issues, such as choosing the type of metal cladding to use on the side of the bridge that faces Lagoon Pond. Landscaping will be completed in spring 2016.

The two-bridge process

MassDOT announced plans in 2003 to replace the failing Lagoon Pond drawbridge in two phases, starting with the temporary bridge that opened in January 2010, built at a cost of $9.3 million. The original construction schedule called for the permanent bridge to open in 2014, but the project was delayed by a lengthy review process.

MassDOT gave two basic reasons for its two-phase plan. Building a temporary bridge allowed vehicular traffic to be rerouted during the construction of the permanent bridge, and also allowed the drawbridge to continue to accommodate boat traffic, especially for emergency refuge in Lagoon Pond for boats in the harbor. And engineers believed there was considerable risk that even with repairs, the existing bridge would fail before a permanent new bridge could be built.

According to MassDOT, the initial construction estimate for the permanent drawbridge was $37.9 million, but the value of the contract awarded was $43.7 million. Its construction began in November 2013.

The permanent bridge is under construction adjacent to the existing, temporary bridge, which will continue in use until the new bridge and approach roadways are realigned and able to accept traffic. The temporary bridge will then be disassembled and used on another project, according to MassDOT.

The area presently occupied by the temporary bridge and the former site of a house will be turned into a park area with a pathway that goes under the bridge on the Tisbury side and around to a small landscaped area with picnic tables and benches. There will also be an access road to that area on the Lagoon Pond side.

Long-serving drawbridge committee

The LPDC was created in 2005, before the temporary bridge’s construction, to provide a conduit for local comments to MassDOT. In addition to Ms. Loberg, a Tisbury selectman, other members include Oak Bluffs Shellfish Constable Dave Grunden, Tisbury Harbormaster Jay Wilbur, former Tisbury Planning Board co-chairman Henry Stephenson, and Tisbury Selectman Tristan Israel.

The Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen appoint the committee’s members. Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Mark London and senior planner Bill Veno also participate as nonvoting members on the committee, and the commission’s staff provides assistance and organizes the meetings.

As the committee’s chairman, Ms. Loberg has attended weekly meetings regarding the permanent bridge’s construction since 2013 with representatives from the state’s bridge project team from the MassDOT District 5 office and Leslie Haines, Parson Corp.’s chief project engineer. Ms. Loberg said it has been a big plus that one of Middlesex Corp.’s employees has been living on the Island, to ensure good communication between the contractor and MassDOT.

With the end in sight for the bridge project, which has occupied so many hours of her time over several years, Ms. Loberg noted with a laugh, “I will have to find another hobby.”

Those interested in watching the bridge construction progress can view webcam footage from MassDOT on the town of Tisbury’s web site at tisburyma.gov.