Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: Bridge to Next Month

I hope I make it.

Carolyn Lynch quietly becomes world champion bridge player

That was the Globe's first page play today.

"End of financing threatens progress on Mass. bridge repairs" by Matt Rocheleau Globe Staff  May 29, 2015

A sweeping $3 billion program that has significantly helped reduce the state’s number of structurally deficient bridges is slated to end next year, with no funding to replace it.

An estimated $14.4 billion of repairs are still needed, according to the state, which includes fixing several hundred deficient bridges across the Commonwealth, some of which carry sections of the Massachusetts Turnpike; Interstates 93, 95, 495, and 84; and other major thoroughfares. That cost estimate is expected to grow as expenses to repair the state’s bridges — on average the oldest in the nation — increase, according to industry experts. 

I want to know where has all the money gone all these years while roads and bridges were neglected. All Dig Dig debt payments and pay, pensions, and perks, huh? And add this to the list of Deval Patrick derelictions of duty.

“We have a tremendous need to address this,” said Alexander Bardow, director of bridges and structures at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Unless lawmakers decide to maintain funding near current levels, he said, “there is a chance that the number of structurally deficient bridges will start to climb.”

In 2008, Massachusetts launched the eight-year, $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, spurred by the collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis the previous year, killing 13 people.

The Massachusetts program was designed to help tackle a backlog of maintenance and repair projects on bridges that have been determined to be structurally deficient. The program and its funding are set to expire in September 2016.

Beyond that date, some funding is expected to be available for bridge repair, but only about a third, or roughly $200 million a year, of what has been spent annually in the state since 2008.

The state also receives federal aid for some bridge projects, but federal spending on public transportation, like local spending, has waned nationwide for years. From 2001 to 2011, federal funds paid for 37 percent of Massachusetts’ highway and bridge work; not all bridge projects are eligible for federal aid.

Because the money goes to wars, Wall Street, well-connected corporations, or Israel.

A bridge deemed to be structurally deficient is not necessarily in danger of collapse or otherwise unsafe, but “has major deterioration, cracks, or other flaws that reduce its ability to support vehicles,” federal transportation officials have said.

Makes me feel real safe driving around here.

In Massachusetts, 446 bridges, or 8.6 percent of all state- and municipally owned bridges, were structurally deficient as of last month, according to data provided by the state transportation department.

That’s down from 613 bridges — or 12.2 percent of all bridges — in 2008.

The program has helped bring the proportion of deficient bridges in Massachusetts below the national average, which stands at about 10 percent. And, with 26 more projects underway and six scheduled to start soon, the program is expected to further reduce the tally of deficient bridges.

But by its own accounting, Massachusetts would need about $14.4 billion to complete all the bridge repairs it has identified as necessary, including bridges that are not classified as structurally deficient. To fix just the state’s structurally deficient bridges would cost $3.3 billion.

State transportation officials said no proposals have been made to replicate some or all of the Accelerated Bridge Program after the initiative expires in September 2016.

Ongoing work includes several major projects, including restoring the Longfellow Bridge; replacing the Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain, and fixing Whittier Bridge which carries Interstate 95 over the Merrimack River between Newburyport and Amesbury.

Massachusetts has the oldest bridges in the country at an average age of 58, while the national average is 43.


Its bridges also rank among the worst nationally when it comes to a measurement transportation officials use nationwide to help prioritize repair and replacement projects.

We're number one!

The standard, called the sufficiency rating, is calculated for each bridge and provides a fairly comprehensive look at its overall status. The measure uses a detailed formula that considers the structure’s condition, functionality, and importance, giving it a score from zero, the worst possible, to 100.

On average, Massachusetts’ bridges score 76.4 — the eighth-lowest average rating of any state and several points below the national average of 81.

The state’s worst-rated bridge is small — about 35 feet in length — but busy. The 64-year-old structure carries a pair of Storrow Drive’s westbound lanes above two of Storrow’s eastbound lanes — a Boston roadway open to cars only. The bridge, which forms a tunnel, is roughly where Berkeley Street meets Storrow, and on average, more than 57,000 vehicles drive over the structure each day, though those traffic estimates are a decade old.

The bridge has a sufficiency rating of zero and is labeled structurally deficient.

However, the last inspection of the bridge, in 2013, “concluded that the tunnel continues to be structurally sound and a safe passageway for vehicular traffic,” Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation spokesman Troy Wall said in an e-mail.

If inspectors discover problems that the state doesn’t have the money or manpower to address immediately, temporary solutions can be implemented, including installing road barriers to keep vehicles from traveling over weaker areas of the bridge, posting signs to ban vehicles over a certain weight, or closing the structure altogether.

“We feel comfortable that we’re doing the best we can to make sure safety is maintained,” Bardow said.

But they could be doing more if they had the money, officials said.

A spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker called the bridge-repair program a success, saying it tackled some of the states’s largest reconstruction projects and pushed officials to develop ways to fix bridges at lower costs and with less disruption. But she offered no specifics for how Baker will address the need for more bridge funding and repair.

Transportation officials will continue “to invest available capital resources in bridge maintenance and safety,” the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Guyton, said in an e-mail.

Calls to increase funding to fix bridges remain politically unpopular. Most proposals involve raising taxes, and lawmakers generally don’t see infrastructure repairs as a path to reelection.

It's unpopular because where did all the money go; taxes are always their answer, and the neglect being good politics is angering.

Yet postponing work can cause problems to grow exponentially, because the older a bridge gets, the more rapid the deterioration, experts said.

Last fall, Boston abruptly shut down — and later demolished — a municipally owned bridge connected to Long Island because the span had structural deficiencies similar to the Minneapolis bridge.

Advocates say increased funding for bridge repair and maintenance is needed not only to help ensure safety, but to let workers get to their jobs and keep businesses running smoothly.

But let's wait for a crisis before urgently addressing the issue.

“Sometimes we as a society take for granted our infrastructure,” said Anthony Puntin, executive director of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers. “Our infrastructure is expensive, but it’s expensive because it’s valuable.”

Whose we?


You might want to pass this next article:

"Commuters get break on fines for late Tobin toll payments" by Martin Finucane Globe Staff  May 29, 2015

State transportation officials say they’re going to give a break to people who were racking up big late payment fines under the Tobin Bridge’s new Pay-by-Plate toll collection system.

The late fines, which for some have risen into the thousands of dollars, will be reduced going forward, officials said. And for 30 days beginning Monday, people can pay the amount of tolls they owe without any late payment fines at all.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to collect tolls, and we feel that this new structure is a way to ensure that continues without unduly burdening drivers with substantial fines,” Massachusetts Department of Transportation Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin said in a statement.

A new all-electronic tolling system was activated on the bridge in July 2014, eliminating cash toll payments. The system collects tolls from people who have E-Z Pass transponders. If people don’t have the transponders, the system captures an image of their license plate and sends them a bill later.

The late fines were modeled after fines that have been in place on the Massachusetts Turnpike since 2000. But state officials said they were too high. People who failed to pay tolls on time were subject to fines of $50 or even $90 for each toll, depending on how late their payments were.

“While the use of the new All-Electronic Tolling technology has certainly proved its worth, piloting the system first on the Tobin Bridge taught us some valuable lessons. Too many of our customers were incurring hundreds or even thousands of dollars in late payment fines,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack in a statement. “The goal of the program should be payment, not punishment.”

I'm surprised it didn't f*** up like the unemployment, health, and food stamp sites.

Under the new fine structure:

— A $1 late fee will be added to every unpaid Pay-By-Plate toll after an invoice goes unpaid for 30 days;

—An additional $1 will be added to each toll transaction after 60 days of nonpayment, and another $1 after 90 days;

— The maximum a driver can owe for an unpaid transaction is $6.

— After 90 days, the vehicle owner’s license and registration will be placed in a non-renew status, until the bill is resolved. An additional $20 fee is required to remove the hold on license and registration renewals. (The fee is also being waived during the 30-day amnesty period beginning Monday.)

MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes said the state was also using new bright orange envelopes so people would find it easier to identify the toll bills when they arrive.


Hope you made it back from the Cape in reasonable time. 

See you next month.