The Northern Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1908 spanning the active Fort Point Channel, then a major industrial transportation route. As constructed, it was an operable steel three-span, triple-barreled, Pratt-type through-truss bridge with a rim-bearing center span that swung open to allow for water traffic. The bridge was designed to carry horse-drawn and motorized truck use through the outside barrels, freight locomotive passage through the central barrel, and pedestrians on sidewalks cantilevered beyond the outside barrels. At the time, the bridge was constructed as an integral part of the development of South Boston as a maritime and industrial center for Boston and the region and continues to serve as a reminder of that part of the city’s evolution. Currently in a state of severe disrepair, the bridge is closed to all traffic and is threatened with total loss. The Walsh administration is considering options for its reuse or replacement.
More information about the Northern Avenue Bridge project can be found here.
The Alliance has been advocating for the preservation of the Northern Avenue Bridge for decades. In recent years, we have actively engaged in a variety of independent and collaborative work with other advocacy organizations and with City-coordinated efforts to find a logical path forward for this historic bridge crossing. All along we’ve tried with varying degrees of success to encourage dialogue and a thoughtful, thorough process. We have been a strong proponent for community desires to preserve an iconic element of Fort Point, a supporter of walking and biking advocates’ voices for the historic bridge, and a watchdog making sure the City follows various historic preservation regulations that establish a clear process that dictate how any changes to the bridge need to be reviewed. We will continue to emphasize the need for a process that integrates the voices of the community.
We feel that the existing bridge is valuable in many ways: it embodies the changing technologies in bridge construction and functionality, illustrates the history of maritime Boston, and contributes character and sense of place to the waterfront. Unlike much of the new construction in the area, the bridge represents something uniquely Boston, and when a pedestrian is on the bridge it provides an engaging relationship with harbor, history, and the city unlike any place else in Boston. For many years we pushed the City to pursue opportunities to creatively reuse the bridge, updating structural elements that are failing while restoring the truss system and creating a unique destination for visitors and a pleasant experience for commuters. The bridge is a rare survivor of a once common form of infrastructure, with only about 120 swing bridges left in the nation, and this one of the largest and perhaps the only one surviving that was once powered by compressed air.
However, through additional analysis pursued by the City, as well as our role as a member of the Mayoral Task Force process (May 2018 – December 2019) it became increasingly clear that pursuit of a repair/restoration is considered infeasible by the City and will not be pursued. We therefore modified our position to “go old or go bold” — repair the existing bridge if it is viable to do so or build an exciting, vibrant, and unique design that meets the budget constraints and the essential, requested needs of the community. That bold alternative would be a bike, pedestrian, and emergency vehicles capable bridge (but otherwise no vehicles) that could be vastly more affordable than a restored bridge.
To be clear, the City under Mayor White committed to long-term preservation of the existing historic bridge – a binding commitment made to the federal government and the Massachusetts Historical Commission as a condition for construction of the Moakely Bridge in 1977. We are extremely disappointed that the City failed in its requirements for preservation and now estimates restoration costs to be $145-160 million where alternative new spans are significantly less. However, if new construction estimates start to approach that level a restoration approach should be put back on the table. As the differential between restoration and new construction costs shrink, the argument not to restore becomes weaker and weaker.
Where the City has truly failed and done so consistently for nearly two years is to respond to community demands for a transportation analysis which justifies any vehicle traffic over the bridge. If a new span is to be built is should be for pedestrians, bicycles, and available for emergency vehicles only.
Update (May 7, 2020):
The City team publicly presented a revised design for a new span on May 6, 2020. We remain disappointed that the City has abandoned the historic bridge due to its condition, for which only the City is to blame. Bracketing that issue aside, we remain opposed to any vehicular traffic over the bridge. The City has not provided any real, convincing justification for transit of any sort despite requests from a wide variety of community groups. Not only does the data not support it, but the City’s claim that the proposal is “people first” is in direct conflict with shuttles, vans, buses, or any other transit. The recent introduction of the rationale that future repair of the adjacent Moakley Bridge requires us to build a new Northern Avenue Bridge for vehicles is simply ludicrous. The positive placemaking benefits proposed are significantly weakened by the introduction of vehicles. Additionally, although we recognize the presented design is only at the 25% stage, the inherent conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles of any sort appear insurmountable, particularly as the bridge roadway narrows as it reaches the shore.
That being said, we feel the design has made significant positive progress since the concept was presented to the Advisory Task Force in December. Of the alternatives presented to the task force, we felt none were particularly innovative, and the design with a truss now being pursued offered the best opportunity for success. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to provide some feedback to the design team as the design has evolved, and we think the result is much better for it. We provided that feedback within the context of the parameters provided by the City: a new bridge, and a bridge able to carry vehicles, regularly foregrounding our comments with the fact that we remain frustrated with the loss of the historic bridge and disagree with the plan to place transit traffic on the bridge.
We feel the current proposal blends a new interpretation of the much-loved historic truss in a way that is appropriately referential but not mimicry. Aspects of it maintain the heft and weight of the steel, industrial span of the past, while other elements are thin, modern, and forward-looking. Pieces of the old are preserved (riveted, steel vertical elements and the swing span’s wheel-bearing turning drum) allowing opportunities for both historic interpretation and appreciation of the industrial craft of the historic span. (We continue to push the City team for a strong interpretive program.) From certain angles the new truss element clearly references the old (particularly at night with lighting to look like the profile of the old bridge) and from other perspectives feels very new and modern. We like that dichotomy of old and new.
While much refinement is needed – better engagement with the water sheet from the pavilion, more refined planting and furniture, better thought-out people engagement with the physicality of the bridge and with harbor views from the upper ribbon component, shading and lighting, and again the complete removal of transit, we believe the design has moved in positive manner, but much work remains to truly make this the “people first” bridge the City is striving to create. Included in that work is review through Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act which the City has yet to begin.
Highlights from our activity log:
- October 28, 2020
The Alliance receives a letter from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the lead federal agency managing the Section 106 (of the National Historic Preservation Act) Process, informing us that they have determined that the project proposed by the City of Boston will have an “adverse effect on historic properties.” They have begun the formal Section 106 consultation with the MA Historical Commission (MHC) and although we are waiting for formal concurrence on that determination from MHC, we anticipate MHC will agree. With the proposed demolition of the existing bridge we had urged an adverse effect ruling in our comment letter and could not see how it could go any other way. The USACE formally invites the Alliance to participate as a consulting party in this process and we will formally accept. The invitation is linked below.
- July 2, 2020
We file a comment letter to the Army Corps Engineers (USACE) (see below), cc’ing a wide range of local, state, and national groups. The letter provides specific feedback during the USACE open comment period, focusing on issues related to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and urging and Adverse Effect ruling and the prompt beginning of a formal consultation process.
The comment period ends for the review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District. The Public Notice is attached below. Comments can be submitted on or before July 2, 2020 to Ruth Brien, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- June 19, 2020
The Executive Office of Environmental Affairs issues its determination that no Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required finding that this project does not exceed mandatory EIR thresholds and the ENF adequately describes the project’s impacts and mitigation measures. The finding acknowledges comments submitted regarding concerns about design, historic resources, and transit and suggests the design may need further refinement, encouraging the public to continue to engage with the City’s permitting process. The finding is attached below.
- June 9, 2020
The Alliance submits a comment letter to MEPA (MA Environmental Policy Act Office) regarding its review of the project. The letter is attached below.
- May 20, 2020
The Alliance joins a virtual presentation by MEPA (MA Environmental Policy Act Office) about its review of the proposal, including the removal of the historic bridge structure. Questions were asked by those in attendance about the review process, justification for transit on the bridge and its impact on pedestrians and cyclists on the bridge, as well as the travel patterns and anticipated frequency of buses. MEPA is not a permitting process and will not approve or disapprove of the project, but will analyze environmental impacts, review comments received from the general public and interested parties such as the Alliance, and determine if an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be required. Comments concerning environmental impacts (and in this context and under review by MEPA are impacts to historic resources) will be accepted through June 9, 2020 and be emailed to email@example.com. We encourage the general public to review the ENF (below) and send feedback.
- May 6, 2020
The Alliance joins a virtual presentation showcasing the City’s proposed design for a new Northern Avenue Bridge. We have provided significant input to the City to enhance this design over preliminary versions. While we remain frustrated and disappointed that the historic bridge was allowed to deteriorate to the point of no return, and that the City is insisting that non-emergency vehicles be part of the program, we are thankful the design has evolved positively from what was introduced late last year. The new bridge includes a modern interpretation of the historic truss, opportunities to interpret and engage with aspects of the old span, and provides a unique experience for pedestrians along the waterfront. We will continue to advise the City as the proposal evolves and look for public feedback as the process continues.
- April 30, 2020
An Environment Notification Form (ENF) is filed with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office. The form (attached) briefly describes the existing bridge and the proposal for a new bridge. Public comments will be accepted through the extended deadline of June 9, 2020. More information here.
- March 6, 2020
Alliance meets with City Engineer to provide clarity on our letter and explain the key point that simply saving a portion of the old bridge and sticking onto a new deck bridge as a decorative element isn’t sufficient preservation. The new bridge needs to read as an entire, thoughtful composition - a blend of old and new.
- February 21, 2020
The Alliance submits a formal comment letter to Chris Osgood, Chief of Streets at the City of Boston, responding to a conceptual proposal for a new Northern Avenue Bridge. The letter details a revised position of the Alliance, which has evolved from advocacy for a preservation/restoration solution to “Go old or go bold” to this new position which focuses on design principles for a new span. This design guidance includes the desire for an integrated and holistic design that may utilize some historic elements but does not attempt to mimic the historic bridge, instead recreating and celebrating its positive qualities. The letter is attached below.
- February 14, 2020
A subcommittee of the Alliance’s Board, and staff, meet with Para Jayasinghe (City Engineer) and his associates to discuss the current concept for a new bridge. The Alliance provides feedback and guidance about recapturing historic fabric and the importance of place-making. A formal comment letter will follow.
- December 10, 2019
Alliance ED Greg Galer attends the final Mayoral Task Force Meeting. The City’s team, along with AECOM and Silman, present a conceptual plan that they feel takes into account Task Force and public comment from the previous meeting way back in June. The Alliance’s go old or go bold sentiment influenced a series of four bold concepts that make the bridge a destination in and of itself. Unfortunately, the city has concluded, and the Silman analysis didn’t suggest otherwise, that rehabilitation of the historic bridge isn’t feasible given its deteriorated condition. Thus all plans are for new bridges. The city emphasizes this is a “people first” concept with the focus on pedestrians and bikes but “transit” (meaning shuttle busses we believe) too. But they were clear there will be no single-use vehicles on the bridge. In the renderings shown none included vehicles of any sort and the desire re transit clearly remains a point of disagreement among Task Force members.
In general, these very early concept renderings are a league beyond what was presented previously to the Task Force and the response was overall positive. Each has the same basic plan — that includes a park below the span integral to the design. Each preserves the center drum from the current NAB as a feature in the center of the park area and each is designed with tide levels from 2070 in mind. One option has modern, concrete arches in a cable-stayed form. One utilizes a recreation of a portion of the existing truss as the iconic feature. This would be a new truss but the Alliance emphasized the opportunity to reuse members from the historic bridge within this span and was told they will work towards that as much as possible. The group was promised continued opportunity to engage in the process and design refinement even though this group will no longer meet. The Alliance will remain heavily engaged as design refinement continues and encourage a focus on the truss version.
- August 27, 2019
The City of Boston submitted a Project Notification Form (PNF) to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). The filing notes, “The Project is in the conceptual phase and the extent of demolition has not yet been determined. … the options for rehabilitation … and new construction … are being considered.” The city presents to MHC the same conceptual designs that have been discussed at the Mayoral Task Force as well as data about the condition and challenges of repair/restoration of the existing bridge, nothing in particular new to those of us who have been intimately engaged in the discussion. The city is looking to initiate the Section 106 Consultation process with MHC. MHC would act in this capacity due to federal action (in this case permitting and funding as well as previous agreements) in MHC’s role as the State Historic Preservation Office. The Preservation Alliance has not yet submitted a formal comment in response to this PNF filing. MHC did respond. The PNF and the responses are below.
- June 28, 2019
Alliance ED Greg Galer attends meeting of the Mayoral Task Force. The City’s team presents more information on restore bridge options, breaking down from one simple “Restore” choice to now include a re-creation with new materials and “hybrid” options that include a mixture of old and new materials, one of full length and one just retaining the center swing span. The city’s consultant concludes that the savings are not all that large, and that a bridge re-created with all new materials is actually less expensive, but all in the $140-160 million range. Committee members ask for more data to better understand the implications if the full width of the bridge isn’t retained. The team also shares renderings showing the challenge of the raised bridge meeting the shore, concluding that the narrower the bridge the easier it is to address these height transitions. Many in the group agree with the Alliance’s “Go old or go bold” summary — and agree with our ED that we’ve yet to see a new bridge design worthy of replacing the old. There is much in the design of the existing bridge that many want to see retained, but recognize the challenges of doing so. The Committee will meet again 1-2 more times to consolidate our thoughts, varied as they may be, to provide a report to the city. We are told this will be moving from a conceptual to a design phase with the city presenting a proposal to the group later in the summer.
- June 3, 2019
The City of Boston will hold a public meeting as part of the community process for the Northern Avenue Bridge. The meeting will begin at 6:30 pm with a short presentation and then participants will be invited to view design concepts and speak with members of the project team in an open house format.
Northern Avenue Bridge Community Meeting
June 3, 2019
75 Northern Avenue, Boston
Whether or not you can attend the public meeting, your comments are critical to this effort. Please take a few minutes to send an email noting your preference for a preservation option that includes pedestrians, bicyclists, and emergency vehicles only. Emails can be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- May 23, 2019
Alliance ED Greg Galer attends meeting of the Mayoral Task Force. The City’s team presents more information about four possible widths for the bridge, from 12’ to 56’ as well as a “restored” option with 64’ of available width. Ideas for potential programming (pedestrian, cyclists, vehicles) are discussed for each width option as well as availability for emergency vehicles. Though design of the overall span is not part of this conversation, cost estimates are provided for the four previously presented conceptual design approaches (Basic, Reinterpret, Contextual, and Restore- see images below). Costs are estimated from $40M for a basic bridge to $110M for a 56’ wide new bridge to $150M for a “restored” bridge. The Task Force expresses appreciation for this new information but requests clarity on various options to restore the bridge not just the one provided (including a scenario where the original trusses are restored but do no carry the full load of the bridge structure or the programming on top of it); the City’s team agreed to provide this information at the community meeting on June 3. The Task Force has been charged with coming to a consensus regarding the width and general style of the bridge at their June 27 meeting, but the group currently does not agree on whether general traffic and/or HOVs should be allowed on the bridge. Many feel that doing so contradicts the community desire to create a safe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as a possible destination, perhaps even with space for activities and programs. Traffic data provided by the City does not conclude that allowing more vehicles on the bridge will significantly alleviate traffic in the Seaport District. The Alliance and many others represented on the Task Force continue to note that there has yet to be presented a new bridge design option that is a desirable, prudent, and feasible alternative to one that restores the historic bridge in some form. We will continue to push for options that respect the city’s commitment to preserve the bridge many years ago as well as new options that focus on pedestrians and bicyclists (as well as emergency vehicles) with a design that Bostonian’s and Fort Point residents can be proud of as uniquely of Boston. Ultimately, the reality may become that a new bridge makes sense, given the heavily deteriorated condition of the historic bridge, but we’ve yet to see a convincing argument for any of the schemes presented to date that we feel would pass assessment of regulators during the permitting process.
- April 25, 2019
Alliance ED Greg Galer attends April 25 meeting of the Mayoral Task Force. The City’s team presents four options for the bridge: “Restore” ($140-160M); “Contextual” — a new hybrid suspension/cable stayed span ($100-120M); “Reinterpret” — a new thin decked light truss that alludes to the profile of the historic bridge ($90-110M); “Basic” — a simple girder span but with most structure above ($50-$80M). None of these budgets include any work on the wooden pile field in the water, previously described as an opportunity for public programming space. All options include two 8’ sidewalks (some wider at center of span), one 12’ vehicle lane, one 12’ programmable space (convertible to traffic if needed in the future), and two 8’ bike lanes.
The City also reports they currently only have $58M reserved for the project.
Some committee members (including Galer) express frustration that only two options are genuinely presented: a restored bridge and a simple span with three iterations, all of which carry all program elements- pedestrian, bicycles, and automobiles. There is an ongoing debate about the benefit of automobile travel lanes because the traffic studies show only minor traffic improvements but detrimental effects to safety and comfort for pedestrians and cyclists. The City now states that having this kind of flexibility as a backup span in case nearby bridges become inaccessible is also an important criteria for this bridge, although never stated previously. Given the consistent public request for pedestrian/bike as the priority and the argument that a narrower bridge (that could carry emergency vehicles if needed) could potentially be significantly less expensive there is demand to see this option analyzed by the City’s team.
Galer notes that if the “Restore” option is ruled out due to cost the City should be looking at viable options that are significantly less expensive and only carry program that makes sense — and not attempt to be everything to everyone. He also notes the concern that if the bridge is built to carry two lanes of vehicular traffic for flexibility, inevitably cars will take over the flexible “program” lane. Galer’s frustration is clearly shared by a number of members of the Task Force and general public commenting.
The Alliance’s current position: The estimated cost to restore/repair the bridge seems awfully high, and details show the cost growing significantly from estimated to the reported $140-160M, with 30% contingency plus other affiliated costs, but those are said to be applied across all the options. For the sake of argument, assume that cost estimate is correct. If the City relies on cost as the central argument for why the Restore option isn’t feasible, their preferred alternative will need to be significantly less. Otherwise that argument is not justified.
Yet we believe the best option for the city and the residents of Boston is to either restore the bridge, or if truly not feasible, provide a bike and pedestrian span that would be wide and strong enough to carry emergency vehicles. No HOV, no regular traffic, no buses- all of which will impede emergency vehicle accessibility across the bridge anyway. The Task Force must have an analysis of that option to truly understand the menu of choices.
The City wants a design selected in June. It seems hard to believe that is viable given where we currently stand.
February 22, 2019
The City once again cancels a scheduled Northern Avenue Bridge Mayoral Task Force Meeting, noting: “The City is currently reviewing the alternatives and associated costs, which must be completed before we present them to the Task Force and public. The meeting will be rescheduled and we will reach out with the new date/location once it is finalized.” Several recent meetings have been cancelled and the group has not been updated or asked for input since the last meeting in mid-December. The Alliance remains frustrated by the process but will continue to engage and advocate.
December 4, 2018
Alliance ED Greg Galer sends letter to Chris Osgood, Chief of Streets for the City of Boston, expressing concerns and frustrations about the lack of information provided regarding the bridge’s current condition and viability for reuse. The letter and December 10 response are available below.
November 28, 2018
Alliance ED Greg Galer attends the public meeting. The engineering team presents information that has been gathered from studies and analyses. There are questions from the public and strong support for reserving the bridge for pedestrian and bicycle use only, with emergency vehicle access, in order to create a safe, inviting destination. Greg reminds those present that sufficient data demonstrating the current condition of the bridge has not been provided and therefore there is no conclusive justification for constructing a new bridge instead of rehabilitating parts of the historic bridge.
November 28, 2018
The City of Boston invites you to a Community Meeting on the Northern Avenue Bridge. “Built in 1908, today’s Northern Avenue Bridge was in service for over a century, before it was closed in 2014. The City of Boston will be reconstructing this iconic span, reimagining it to improve mobility, honor history, strengthen resiliency and create a new destination along Boston’s shore. The City has convened a Mayoral Advisory Task Force to assist in designing and programming the new bridge. The City invites you to lend your voice and help build a bridge that meets the needs of Boston’s next century. The meeting will begin with an open house where participants can view project materials, learn more about the current bridge’s structural analysis, mobility evaluation, placemaking and design process, and speak with members of the Project Team. The presentation will begin at 6:30, followed by time for Q+A.”
November 8, 2018
The City’s team presents to the Historic Resources Committee of the BSA, noting that their assessment leads to their conclusion that rehabilitation of the trusses is not practical and will not be pursued any further. Their rough target date is 2022 for completion.
November 7, 2018
Alliance staff meets with members of the City’s team including AECOM and Silman for more information on the structural analysis and conclusions. ED Galer notes the Alliance Board’s position which is summarized as “Go old or go bold.” In other words, the City should assure all opportunities for rehabilitation are explored and evaluated and if none are concluded to be viable then use this as an opportunity for a creative, bold bridge crossing for the city, of course within the process integrating a meaningful educational/interpretive effort as part of mitigation.
The team presents that the following solutions are not viable: repair/restore, re-create all in new, and a hybrid solution that preserves the historic trusses but new structure carries the bulk of the load. Alliance staff provide guidance on the written information they would need to be convinced that the evaluation of alternatives is sufficient for the Alliance to move from a preservation recommendation. The team promises to deliver in advance of the next Task Force meeting.
October 25, 2018
Alliance ED, Greg Galer, attends sixth Task Force meeting.
Agenda, presentation, and summary notes available here
The bulk of the discussion is on mobility and traffic evaluations with the team presenting the results of their traffic analysis for various modes over the bridge: pedestrian and bike only, added HOV+, added one lane/westbound traffic, added two-lane general traffic. There seems to be general agreement that pedestrian and bikes are a priority as are emergency vehicle access, most agreeing that HOV+ seems to make sense. There is less agreement on general traffic, most seeing in the data that it provided minimal benefit and may compromise to some degree the pedestrian and placemaking experience, but there are some strong voices for general traffic of some form.
September 27, 2018
Alliance ED, Greg Galer, attends fifth Task Force meeting. Agenda, presentation, and summary notes are available here.
The AECOM team reports that although evaluation is not complete, the ability to save the bridge is looking less and less likely, still bumping against 75-90% replacements needs for truss members. They are concluding that it is not practical to rehabilitate and now are exploring options for splice joints that would allow historic structural members to partially remain. Preliminary evaluation of substructure (piers and pilings) suggest reuse of those is viable.
The team shows some very preliminary designs for a new bridge for feedback. These are new trusses as a way to “honor history” although they provide a more open feel to better engage with the water. The Task Force was mostly luke-warm towards the proposals, Galer noting (and other agreeing) that one of the characteristics of the existing bridge that people like is its feeling of enclosure/outdoor room. So making a more open feel may not be the desire.
A question is posed to Galer about how Section 106 regulatory preservation review would respond and he says that he feels the team has yet to demonstrate a real effort to find a creative preservation solution. If a straight repair/restoration option is not viable, Galer asks about one that repairs enough of the truss that it does not have to carry the full load and is assisted by new bridge structure under, beside, and within. This has been done on many other historic bridges. Galer urges this option to be fully explored. This should not be a binary discussion- fully restored or fully new. The team agrees to further study these structural questions.
There was a lengthy discussion about mobility and traffic with Councilor Flaherty’s staff and Congressman Lynch’s staff who encouraged full traffic over the bridge as a solution to traffic woes in the Seaport. The Federal Courthouse representatives show an evolved opinion on emergency egress noting that general vehicles on the bridge tied up in traffic would be the opposite of what they need. If cars are backed up on the bridge then it would not be available as an emergency route.
There is a question from the public about why the new designs presented are three lanes, noting that if we end up going a route that is not a restore/save option then we are not bound to that width. Also, a question about the role of the Parks Department and other departments so that this is not perceived as solely an infrastructure project.
August 23, 2018
Alliance ED, Greg Galer attends fourth Task Force Meeting.
Chief Osgood notes that the city heard clear feedback from last meeting that the Task Force wants more analysis and data and will be providing it. The timeline has been adjusted to be sure there is time to do it right and that the city is fully engaged with and responsive to the Task Force.
AECOM summarized ongoing additional traffic data gathering to be presented at next meeting. This was in response to feedback from the previous meeting. The Task Force requested a funding summary at the next meeting – What money is available? Where is the city looking? What demands are being made by potential sources? Chair was very clear to state that the Task Force will lead the design and partnerships and money outreach will follow. Money sources are not driving design.
AECOM team circulated a decision matrix to try and move some items from discussion to decision. They went through several items and asked each member of the Task Force for a response. The Task Force members will have the opportunity to respond electronically after discussion with their board/group if needed. Examples include:
Raise each end and center? (Galer reluctantly supports, noting clearly our long desire was not to raise, but given resiliency issues it’s hard to not.) All around table were questions re how it meets the edges, grade, etc. Galer also noted concern about how angled approaches are done without negatively impacting trusses and the look of the historic bridge.
The AECOM team updated structural reports. Now it is looking like most of the verticals (assuming a lower splice can be developed— which they are working on) could be saved. Diagonals to be replaced (Galer notes their replacement is easier without visual impact than riveted lattice-girder verticals). They also re-examined load capacity and the swing span looks good if the condition can be brought up. Approach spans not in as good condition; with some additional structure we might be able to save more, but at some point it may make less sense (if a vertical requires additional structure to take load plus bottom splice, does that make sense to save?).
The Task Force was asked to comment on spectrum from Preserve – Replicate (all new material) – Reinterpret – New Bridge. Galer took the lead by commenting first, given Alliance’s obvious strong interest here. He notes Alliance Board discussion. Our desire/preference remains repair and we are awaiting more data (splice joints etc.) to see if that is feasible. We have concern about the realities of a replicate situation — how authentic/real would it be? We don’t want beams with fake rivet heads stuck on. Don’t want Disney. We may get to a point where repair/replication doesn’t make sense and we see this as an opportunity for something new and unique that captures the essence of the bridge (outdoor room, scale, proportions, shape). BUT VERY CLEARLY states that we aren’t at that point yet. More information is needed on splice joints, how repairs and/or replication of elements would occur.
There was much agreement around the room for this position.
July 26, 2018
Alliance ED, Greg Galer attends third Task Force Meeting. There is much discussion of traffic implications and impacts of the bridge and what benefits would or would not be of various modes of transport on the bridge. The Task Force pushes for more data to better understand the suggestion that HOV+ traffic on the bridge provides the best traffic benefits.
The AECOM team presented some preliminary structural engineering reports plus a loading analysis that suggest 86% of the truss members would need replacement. Galer pushed on analysis of the viability of splice joints in existing members to allow more to be saved. The AECOM team provides clarification on loading — that the bridge needs to carry “assembly” loading of 100 lbs/sf so bikes and pedestrians only doesn’t mean a less strong structure than cars. City Engineer notes it we should design with loading for future flexibility in use.
Galer notes his hope that there is no preconceived notion of the outcome and that the expertise of the Task Force is taken seriously and we are provide the data we request to be able to provide real input and guidance. In particular he notes the Section 106 historic review process which this project will need to clear and provide data to support.
Team to report back with more data next meeting
July 17, 2017
June 28, 2018
Alliance ED, Greg Galer attends second Task Force Meeting. These are public meetings and all materials (agenda, minutes, and various reference documents) will posted on a new city web site to go live soon. There will also be an online opportunity to provide feedback. After Labor Day the city team expects to have an open house/public meeting with a more formal design hearing about a month later. In the meantime they want to meet with various constituent groups.
The consulting team has looked at all “ideas competition” entries for spirit and aspiration and note that almost all have the existing bridge remain and even those that proposed taking it out still create a destination.
Rich McGinnis from BPDA presented Climate preparedness planning and suggests that elevation changes surrounding Fort Point will be the likely path forward. He suggest looking at Climate Ready South Boston documents. Already this winter water was hitting the bottom of the bridge during storms. The recommendation is to raise the bridge and fix it in place, with the bottom matching the bottom clearance of the Moakley Bridge.
Bridge Engineer from AECOM, Joe Allwarden, presents report on their analysis of condition of bridge, starting with a primer on bridge terminology. The floor system is in very rough shape – 66% of 900+ members are in poor or critical condition. Reusing elements that are in ok condition not impossible but has challenges due to need to disassemble pin connected joints and inability to know their internal conditions in advance. Many elements just have one end (deck end) in poor condition but challenging to splice onto those, particularly with desire for 75 year lifespan going forward. Perhaps possible for some diagonals. Top cords mostly likely viable for reuse and cross bracing. They will be talking to MassDOT for lessons learned on projects like the Longfellow Bridge. Substructure (piers, abutments) under analysis now. For context the center, round, drum pier has 870 wooden piles under it.
A variety of preliminary conceptual designs were presented (best to look on web site once up). All focus on main goals: honor past, resiliency, destination/placemaking. 6 sketches shown, each with pedestrian, biking, some limited vehicular (type/amount tbd – minimum emergency vehicle), and programmable space (particularly on “the island” which is the space over which the swung-open bridge sits). Three schemes had a stronger preservation bent with fewer interventions to the original design, although some altered the spacing between the barrels. Three focused more on the placemaking with extensions, ramps, etc.
There was a fair amount of discussion about putting traffic on the bridge — desires of various constituencies, perceived traffic demands, and what traffic studies show a reopened bridge can provide, balanced against desires for pedestrians, bikes, and making the bridge a programmed destination. This will be discussed in more detail at next meeting and traffic studies provided in advance. Rick Dimino notes that the study they completed showed that benefit of putting traffic on the bridge is limited by the intersections and narrowness on either side which reduces throughput. Although Councilor Flaherty was adamant that traffic should be primary most around the table didn’t seem to agree. Will be discussed in detail at next meeting.
Upcoming task force Meetings:
July 26 will focus on mobility and traffic; a structural analysis update; programmable space
August – conclude programmable space; financing; permitting requirements
September – public workshops and public design hearing
A Mayoral Advisory Task Force is formed and notified that the engineering firm AECOM has been selected to design the project with support from Urban Idea Lab of Boston and BEaM from London, England. The design philosophy for the replacement bridge continues to focus on mobility, climate resiliency, honoring history, and creating a destination. City officials promise this will be an open process, with extensive public engagement which will begin soon.
Alliance ED Greg Galer attends first meeting as a member of the Task Force.
The City of Boston’s Public Works Department issues a Request for Qualifications for architecture and engineering design services relative to the new Northern Avenue Bridge. The Alliance urges the City to refrain from describing the project as designing a “new” bridge since the process has not been completed to determine if the bridge will be restored or replaced. Also, the RFQ fails to note experience in historic structures which should be a priority for this project. The RFQ is followed by a Request for Proposals which addresses several of the Alliance concerns including requiring relevant historic bridge experience.
The Army Corps of Engineers sends a letter claiming adverse effect to this historic bridge and invites to Alliance to join the consultation process.
Boston City Council authorizes $15M from the City’s Capital Grant Fund to support engineering and design services related to the bridge. This funding likely needs to be held in reserve in case the bridge deteriorates to the point where it impedes water navigation and emergency removal is required.
May 25, 2016
Alliance ED Greg Galer serves on a jury for an Ideas Competition launched by Mayor Walsh to collect ideas for the Northern Avenue Bridge. There were over 100 submissions and eight were selected as winners, most of which were largely concepts that preserved key elements of the historic bridge.
February 18, 2016
Alliance sends an AllianceAlert asking for supporters to submit comments to the Army Corps of Engineers in support of saving the bridge. About 175 comments are received and nearly all support a preservation solution.
Alliance staff discusses possibility of emergency relocation of bridge with City Engineer due to dangerous conditions. Alliance communicates with Massachusetts Historic Commission and others. After a discussion with the Board of Directors, the Alliance sends a letter to the City’s Chief of Streets.
April 24, 2015
The Alliance sends a letter to Mayor Walsh reinforcing the recommendation that was made after many meetings with stakeholders that the City pursue a strategy of rehabilitating the existing bridge.
The Alliance hosts a meeting of engineers, advocates, and other related professionals to discuss viable options for reusing the bridge. Several additional meetings are held with various stakeholders to discuss priorities for the bridge and analyzing cost estimates.
January 16, 2015
Executive Director, Greg Galer, meets with Mayor Walsh, the City Engineer, the Chief of Civic Engagement, and the Interim Commissioner of Public Works to discuss a reconstruction plan with an eye toward preservation.
The Northern Avenue Bridge is closed to all traffic, including pedestrian, due to safety concerns. An article in the Boston Globe notes that the City is working with the Alliance to balance preservation issues with the need for public safety. The Globe also publishes an Editorial by Alliance Executive Director. Alliance staff maintains close dialogue with stakeholders.
November 18, 2014
Alliance staff joins City of Boston staff for a tour of the bridge and assess current condition.
The Alliance joins other advocacy groups in efforts to reengage with the City regarding the Northern Avenue Bridge. Alliance staff attends meetings and participates in conversations with City officials, local advocates, and others to encourage dialogue.
In the News
An Environment Notification Form (ENF) has been filed with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office.
The City of Boston invites you to a Community Meeting on the Northern Ave Bridge
Monday, June 3, 2019
The state gets a $98M cut of GE’s sale of its property in Fort Point. Where should that money go?
The City of Boston invites you to a
Community Meeting on the Northern Ave Bridge
Boston’s urban planners and placemakers have an opportunity to make the Northern Avenue Bridge, now a rusting relic in Fort Point Channel, a postcard-worthy destination that draws in tourists
It has been nearly four years since anyone could walk across the old Northern Avenue Bridge, and two decades since you could drive across it.