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Why the BU Bridge Is So Messed Up

Explanations don’t change the timeline; repairs will last for years


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Why is the BU Bridge in such bad shape? What will multiyear repairs really accomplish? In the video above, Jack Murray, deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, tries to answer the questions and put the best foot forward.

Two more years.

That’s how long state officials say the BU Bridge will remain snarled by construction and reduced to one lane in both directions, guaranteeing a nightmarish commute by car or bike or on foot.

The bridge that bears the University’s name is an icon in the BU community and a historic landmark by state reckoning. It’s also key to our area’s traffic flow — or clog, at present. On average, 35,000 vehicles a day try to cross its crippled span of the Charles River. And despite increased police presence on both the Cambridge and the Boston approaches, single-lane access has reduced traffic to a crawl, forcing bicyclists into no-win choices — defy death in the car lane? ram pedestrians on the single narrow sidewalk? — and reducing the quality (and possibly length) of life for anyone who navigates the Charles River Campus.

On November 1, the bridge became a charge of the revamped Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), which took control of infrastructure that had been managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), itself an inheritor from the defunct Metropolitan District Commission. Not that commuters will see a difference — work will continue, deadlines will not change, and snarls will not untangle.

“We apologize,” says Jack Murray, DCR deputy commissioner, noting that decades of neglect has reduced the famed bridge to an unsightly, perhaps even dangerous, state. While his candor acknowledges the obvious, it doesn’t change the fact that juniors and seniors (perhaps sophomores too) will graduate without ever seeing the BU Bridge as it was meant to look.

Seth Rolbein can be reached at srolbein@bu.edu.


11 Comments on Why the BU Bridge Is So Messed Up

  • Hussam AlMuayad on 12.07.2009 at 5:49 am

    BU Bridge

    Two more years to finish the BU Bridge…
    The Hoover dam took less time than that in the 1930s

  • Anonymous on 12.07.2009 at 7:51 am

    2 years. Yowch. Great vid.

    2 years. Yowch.

    Great vid. Way to make a rusty old bridge look photogenic.

  • Jack Litwinsky on 12.07.2009 at 8:54 am

    BU Bridge

    The old Cottage Farm bridge or now the BU bridge has be this way for many years. It, like most bridges in the United States ,has not been funded for repairs for decades. I grew up in Cambridge and have lived there most of my life. I can not recall when the bridge was last worked on in a major way. I am 60 years old so I am talking a lot of time here.

    So the real questions should be is why was it neglected for so many decades? There were many times when the state was fat with cash and did nothing about this bridge.

    Tell me why folks like the Army Corps of Engineers ,http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/, could not be called on to allow for a temporary bridge to cross the Charles? Then perhaps we could work on the BU bridge 24 7 and be done much faster?

    I know it would be like sending a battleship up the Mississippi River during Hurricane Katrina to take the victims out of harm way instead of leaving them in a flooded city.

    My point is why not use the Military for such matters to help build rather then search in Destroy mission. Why not for the power of good. We have so many people looking for work. This thing about working together has to start somewhere!

    Just a thought.

  • Anonymous on 12.07.2009 at 9:23 am

    re: “forcing bicyclists into no-win choices — defy death in the car lane? ram pedestrians on the single narrow sidewalk?”

    How about this option? Get off your bike and WALK it down the sidewalk. Then, when you’ve crossed the bridge, get back on the bike and pedal away. There are in fact *many* situations in which this is a valid option for cyclists. You’re not surgically attached to your bike, and you can spare 30 seconds. *Sidewalks are for walking.*

  • Graduate student on 12.07.2009 at 9:50 am

    Thank you --

    Thanks BU Today for going out and getting answers, even though the answers are enough to make you cringe.

  • Likai Liu on 12.07.2009 at 10:47 am

    After Red Sox

    I’m less concerned about the appearance of the bridge, but about the lack of capacity in the surrounding area of the Fenway Park to dissipate traffic after a baseball game. The traffic condition on Commonwealth Ave. from Kenmore to BU Bridge often persists one or two hours after the game finishes, and I’d like to see that eradicated.

    If you’re going west bound, you’ll likely take the BU Bridge to Memorial Drive. That’s because the entry to Storrow Dr. on University Rd. doesn’t allow you access to west bound lane. As a result, after a game, you always see congestion on Commonwealth Ave. cease after you go past BU Bridge.

    Suppose the video asserts correctly that the rotary design after you get off BU Bridge is problematic (I think it does what it’s supposed to do, by the way), and you want to avoid that, then your next option towards the west is Cambridge St. in Allston. It’s unlikely that Allston neighborhood can handle this amount of traffic either. It will just extend the congestion on Comm. Ave. all the way to Allston.

    I’m not sure if the muddy river entry to Storrow Dr. or the Mass Ave. Harvard Bridge entry to Memorial Dr. is supposed to help. There is also a west bound ramp to I-90 on Mass Ave. near Tower Records building. They’re likely congested too.

  • Anonymous on 12.07.2009 at 5:02 pm

    Glad to see this work finally getting done

    This has been sorely needed for quite some time. I’m glad it’s finally happening, despite how long it will take.

    I live in Cambridge and take this bridge (usually on foot or by bus) every day. Despite what the text of the article above says, I have yet to see anyone from the Cambridge Police doing anything to help with the serious problems in the rotary on the Cambridge side. Even a little paint on the rotary making it clear how many lanes there are (is it two or three? where are people supposed to merge?) would go a long way toward smoothing things out.

  • Anonymous on 03.05.2010 at 11:16 am

    Has anyone considered creating an underpass for pedestrians and cyclists on the Cambridge side?

    The lights on the Cambridge side could be removed if the pedestrians and cyclists were given an alternate route.

  • Brian on 11.19.2010 at 8:25 am

    Final result?

    Can anyone direct me to a plan for the finished product of the BU Bridge reconstruction? I’ve looked in vain; the DOT has a set of slides showing yhe phases of construction but not how many lanes there will be when the project is complete.

  • Anonymous on 07.03.2011 at 10:29 am

    Final Result, BU Bridge

    DCR powerpoint of a DCR public hearing at MIT (in January 2009) includes a sketch of the redesign of BU bridge on pg 17:

    And also here in a powerpoint for the June 30, 2009 public hearing at BU. A diagram of the “3 lane plan” is on page 13.

    The plan was (and I haven’t seen any change to this plan) to have a single lane entry to the BU bridge at each end which will branch out mid-bridge to 2 lanes exiting. Two bike lanes will be added to the bridge, one on each side causing the 4 lane bridge to become a 3 lane bridge. It appears likely that the single lane entries will perpetuate the current chokepoints and gridlock at the entry points to the bridge. Retaining the 4 lane bridge with “sharrows” (a shared vehicle/bike lane in each direction) was suggested at public hearings but rejected by the many bicycle advocates present.

    Traffic officers are currently necessary at rush hour at each end of the bridge to facilitate traffic flow. It’s not clear if those officers will continue after the rehabilitation is complete.

  • Clare on 10.20.2011 at 9:29 am

    What an appaling mess 40 mins on mem drive
    Not even near bridge yet!
    Get us help close the bridge stop this mess!

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