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Cambridge Eyesores: Waiting, Waiting for a New Bridge

Cambridge Eyesores: Waiting, Waiting for a New Bridge

By Karen Klinger

When work began on the reconstruction of the Walden Street Bridge near Porter Square on Oct. 10, 2006, it was just days after Catholic Church theologians announced they were reconsidering an aspect of Limbo, which Dante depicted as the outer circle of Hell.

A coincidence, to be sure, but to residents and business owners near the bridge who have suffered through the seemingly interminable rebuilding only to learn that the completion date now has been put off another six months, it may seem oddly appropriate.

With the bridge closed and Walden Street traffic to and from Massachusetts Avenue diverted, one restaurant dependent on drive-in patrons shut its doors and the owners of the Thistle and Shamrock store adjacent to the bridge saw their business drop in half. Occupants of nearby homes have complained of noise, dust and worst of all, a rat infestation.

At the start of May, City Engineer Owen O’Riordan released a project update with the news that J.F. White, the contractor for the Massachusetts Highway Department, which owns the bridge, now estimates it will take at least until the end of March 2009 to complete the project.

In the meantime, this eyesore is a jumble of construction materials, concrete, a jerry-rigged temporary span for pedestrians and bicyclists and a gaping nothingness where the old bridge used to be.

As resident Robert Skomro observed on the Porter Square Neighbors Association email listserv, “So that makes 30 months? To span what? 50 feet?” He added, “Just as a comparison, excavation of the site of the Empire State building (1,450 feet tall) began on Jan. 22, 1930 and Governor Al Smith’s grandchildren cut the opening ribbon on May 1, 1931.”

Last year, O’Riordan said city officials were confident that the reconstruction of the bridge, which spans the MBTA’s Fitchburg commuter rail line, was going along smoothly. Now, he says that in drilling shafts that provide structural support for abutments, workers discovered their alignment had shifted, requiring additional analysis and redesign.

In addition, O’Riordan says excavations indicate the center abutment must be relocated, putting it farther away from the brick arch enclosing an historic cattle path which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. He also said more work is needed to stabilize the arch.

Construction delays happen, of course, but to continue with Skomro’s line of thought, it took only 36 months in the late 1960s to complete the 11,248-foot-long Claiborne Pell Bridge across Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. That project involved driving piles up to 162 feet underwater—a pile driving record—and pouring the largest amount of concrete ever poured underwater. Workers also had to install 2,280 tons of cable and 35 miles of electrical wire.

Closer to home, the cantilevered three-level Tobin Bridge that stretches two miles from Chelsea to Charlestown across the Mystic River--the largest bridge in New England--was completed in just 24 months in 1948 and 1949.

And then, there’s the Walden Street Bridge—20 months of work so far, and still a long way to go.

Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley says the council has asked City Manager Robert Healy to set up a meeting with state highway officials so that members of the public can better understand the reasons for the construction delays “even if it doesn’t speed the process along at all.”

Undoubtedly, there will be no shortage of questions.


I just returned from China- I was there in 2005 when olympic construction was just beginning - and seeing what the Chinese have done in 3 years....well, yeah, what IS the issue? I would have to compare the Walden Street project with the Lafayette Square project in Central Square...I remember that the demolition was going on during the DNC in 2004....

Go Craig Kelley! Many contractors having been scamming for years. The city should put a public passing park in the site of the old KFC. It is the least we could get for putting up with these abuses.