New bridge on schedule despite budget cutbacks
April 18, 2002
By MICHAEL W. FREEMAN Herald News Staff Reporter
FALL RIVER - Last month, the region's planning agency met to make some unpleasant choices.

The Brightman Street Bridge is seen from the Fall River side, looking toward Somerset. The new bridge, a little farther north up the Taunton River, is in Phase 3 of completion.
Herald News Photo by OMAR BRADLEY


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 law.
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.

©The Herald News 2002