The Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District announced
that federal transportation money is getting harder to come by, forcing
it to scale back and prioritize the road and bridge projects slated to
go out to bid this year.
SRPEDD Transportation Director Roland Hebert noted that $520 million in
federal funds are estimated to come into this state in the next fiscal
year, but at least half of that will go to Boston's costly "Big Dig" Central
Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel construction project.
If there's one bright spot in all this, Hebert said, it's that a portion
of that federal money is also mandated to go to "megaprojects," which
can't be subject to budget cuts.
One of them is in the region's back yard: the new Brightman Street Bridge.
Motorists driving on Route 79 can see that work on the bridge is progressing.
Construction is well under way on the piers that will one day support
the new drawbridge between Fall River and Somerset. The $166 million bridge
is expected to be completed by 2005.
The state is now in Phase 3 of this construction project, the construction
of the drawbridge piers.
In Phase 4, estimated at $70 million, the superstructure of the bridge,
everything above the water line, will be built. In Phase 5, estimated
at $22 million, the approaches to the bridge will be built.
The plans include demolishing the existing bridge, but keeping its abutments
for use as fishing piers.
The Massachusetts Highway Department, which is overseeing this project,
is also looking for opportunities for a greenway, recreational space or
economic development in the section of land from the Braga Bridge north
to the new bridge.
"We know its importance to the southeastern Massachusetts economy," Amorello
said of this project.
"It will be a beautiful bridge. Southeastern Massachusetts will take a
great deal of pride in it," Amorello added.
Outside of the Big Dig, the Brightman Street Bridge is one of several
major highway projects in the state, and the largest bridge project.
The others are Route 146 in central Massachusetts, Route 3 North in Lowell,
the realignment of Route 44 in Plymouth County, the Coolidge Bridge in
Northampton and the Weymouth Quincy Fore River Bridge.
Despite the progress being made on this project, getting it moving has
at times been a major challenge for local supporters. U.S. Rep. Barney
Frank, D-Mass., first held hearings on the need for a new bridge beginning
in 1983, but in the early 1990s the project came to a screeching halt
when the U.S. Coast Guard stopped the state's design of the bridge. Coast
Guard officials insisted the ship opening of the drawbridge be widened.
The Coast Guard claimed they could not permit a bridge with less than
300 feet horizontal clearance on the Taunton River under the federal Rivers
and Harbors Act of 1968.
Frank eventually cleared the way for this project by changing the federal
More controversy followed the bridge in February 1999, when former Gov.
Paul Cellucci revealed that his administration had taken $50 million in
federal highway money and invested it in private companies.
Officials in Fall River were particularly angry to learn that the Cellucci
administration, which had promised to set aside $36 million for the first
phase of the new bridge project, actually spent the money on the Big Dig.
The money had been appropriated a year ago, and Cellucci was forced to
submit a bill to the Legislature asking them to reallocate the money.
Controversies continue. Hebert noted that the federal government has been
slow to make payments on this project.
"The Brightman Street Bridge is (now) being paid for 100 percent by the
state," Hebert said. "Last year, (state highway officials) were supposed
to collect $53 million in federal money from the federal government for
paying the state back."
Despite all these headaches, no one doubts the project will get built,
and that within the next few years, cars will be driving across it.