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Bridge repair is considered

By Tony Zamparutti

MIT will host a federally mandated hearing sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (DPW) on Feb. 19 on the plans for reconstruction of the Harvard Bridge.

DPW officials and consultants will discuss the use of the bridge during construction at the meeting scheduled for 7:30 pm in Room 1-190.

The hearing will provide an opportunity for members of the MIT community to voice their concerns about the bridge reconstruction, said Robert A. Sherwood, associate dean for student affairs. He suggested that those with serious comments present them in writing for the public record.

About 1000 MIT students -- most of whom live in independent living groups in Boston -- must cross the bridge to get to MIT. In addition, many MIT faculty and staff members living in Boston use the bridge.

"We will have a presentation to give" at the hearing, said Bill Maimone '85, chairman of the InterFraternity Conference.

Work on the bridge is scheduled to begin in the spring of 1986 and will last about two years, according to Bill Litant of the DPW's Public Relations Office. The project is in "very early stages," he said, and plans are not yet definite.

Paul F. Barrett, Director of Physical Plant, Nigel Wilson PhD '70, professor of Civil Engineering, O. Robert Simha MCP '57, director of Planning, and Sherwood met with DPW officials on Jan. 23 "to hear what the status of the project was," Simha said.

"The DPW is proposing to close the bridge to automobiles" during construction, said Litant, but "it has decided ... to try to allow pedestrian traffic." Keeping the bridge open to vehicles would impose "prohibitive" costs, Litant explained.

Sherwood said that it was his impression from the meeting that "their preference would be to close the bridge entirely" during construction. Nonetheless, they expected this would not be possible, he said.

The officials said, however, the bridge might have to be closed completely for periods of two to three months, Sherwood added.

MIT does not want to see the bridge closed to pedestrians, he said. If the bridge were to be closed, even briefly, in August or September, "it could have a tremendous negative impact on rush for the fraternities and crowding in the dormitories," Sherwood explained.

At least six state and federal agencies must review the plans for the bridge, Simha said. The operation of the bridge during construction will probably not be decided immediately after the meeting, he added.

The MIT and DPW representatives at the Jan. 23 meeting also discussed the possibility of installing a conduit across the new bridge to carry cables for MIT's Athena computer system to independent living groups in Boston, the high speed of cars crossing the bridge into Cambridge, and pedestrian walks on the new bridge.

Inspectors for the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), which administers the bridge, discovered a number of structural problems in the summer of 1983, including cracks in the joints from which certain sections of roadway hang. The MDC closed the bridge's two outer traffic lanes and banned trucks and buses from the bridge.

The planned construction will replace the bridge's entire superstructure, but will use the existing piers. Underwater testing done last fall indicates that the piers and the pilings on which they rest should be strong enough to hold the new superstructure, according to Litant.

The Harvard Bridge is a state landmark, Litant said, and the rebuilt bridge will look very similar to the present structure.