City Councilor Sal LaMattina is taking on MassDOT after receiving numerous complaints from East Boston residents on the time it takes for the Chelsea Street Bridge to be lowered.
In a letter to Mass DOT Acting Secretary Frank DePaola LaMattina expressed his concerns about significant traffic delays that the residents and business owners of Eastie have been experiencing with the new Chelsea Street Bridge opening cycles which are often inordinately lengthy, causing unacceptable delays.
“When the new bridge was completed recently the community was informed that traffic delays associated with the new structure would not be longer in comparison to those of the old bascule bridge it replaced,” wrote LaMattina. “However that does not seem to be the case from direct observation of the new bridge’s opening cycles due to a number of factors, some of which appear to be maritime related and others the result of MassDOT bridge procedures.
While LaMattina said he understands that the installation of a new, complex structure such as the Chelsea Street bridge requires a suitable break-in period to implement new procedures and equipment he believes that an adequate break-in period has passed for the new bridge and that MassDOT should take whatever steps are necessary to reduce the current unacceptable level of delays from the new Chelsea Street Bridge as soon as feasible.
MassDOT spokesman Michael Michael Verseckes said MassDOT is looking into the matter but said it is believed that with the old bridge, boats may have been able to proceed through the channel before the bridge was fully open, because since it was a drawbridge, vertical clearance was not an issue.
“There are also federal maritime laws that apply here as well that require vessels to adhere to requirements that a bridge be fully open before it can pass under the bridge,” said Verseckes. “Because this new bridge is a vertical-lift span, it is conceivable that a vessel passing through the channel could make contact with the lift portion of the bridge before it was fully opened.”
Verseckes added that maritime law dictates that a bridge must be opened upon request.
“This is the case even in an instance where a vessel may not be in sight of a bridge,” he said. “So it is possible that operators could request a bridge opening earlier than in the past to ensure it is fully open when they reach it to avoid having to stop and wait for it to be completely open. Additionally, the channel is wider and deeper, which can accommodate larger vessels which could be adding to the time needed to pass under the bridge.”
There are also openings that are required as part of routine maintenance, such as greasing the guide cables and “re-indexing” the bridge to ensure it is sitting properly on its bearings when it is in the down position.
“For these, we schedule maintenance openings during off peak hours to avoid inconveniencing neighbors in Chelsea and East Boston, as well as businesses and folks accessing the airport,” he said.