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Boston fraternity members attend meeting on bridge reconstruction

By Tony Zamparutti

The Harvard Bridge should remain open to pedestrians and bicyclists, and possibly cars as well, during its planned two-year reconstruction, said consultants to the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (DPW) at a public meeting held Tuesday at MIT.

The majority of the nearly 100 people in attendance were members of MIT fraternities in Boston. At the meeting, preliminary designs were presented and proposed alternatives for construction were discussed.

Over 1000 MIT students living in Boston, and many faculty and staff members, need to cross the bridge to reach the Institute.

Approximately 30,000 vehicles and 6000 pedestrians use the bridge each day, according to Robert Fitzgerald of the E. Lionel Pavlo Engineering Company, which is making preliminary reconstruction plans for the DPW.

When asked if there was a 100 percent certainty of keeping the bridge open to pedestrian traffic, Fitzgerald replied, "I think so."

The cities of Boston and Cambridge, in addition to the MIT community, are pressuring the DPW to maintain vehicular traffic, he added.

Thomas Joyce of Pavlo Engineering explained that "we have to, under any case, maintain the existing telephone lines over the bridge" during construction.

But for short periods of construction, the bridge will have to be completely closed, said Joyce. The officials at the meeting were uncertain whether this would include pedestrian traffic.

Several people, including Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert A. Sherwood, made comments or presented written statements at the meeting.

Paul Sidhu '87 of Lambda Chi Alpha read an InterFraternity Conference statement. "For myself and all those who live in Boston, the bridge is our sole access to MIT and it is a bridge we walk across every day," he said.

"While we applaud the effort to keep the bridge safe, closing the bridge to pedestrian traffic for any period of time would be a grave mistake and would isolate all the student living groups across the river," Sidhu added.

The collapse of a similarly-designed bridge in Connecticut, an accident that killed three people, prompted an inspection of the Harvard Bridge in the summer of 1983.

The inspection revealed cracks in a number of the bridge's hanger joints, from which sections of the bridge hang. In general, Fitzgerald said, "the bridge is in deteriorating condition."

Pavlo Engineering is proposing the DPW "take the superstructure off the bridge" and replace it, he continued. The superstructure is everything above the piers, he explained.

This would cost $9.1 million, Fitzgerald said, of which 80 percent will be paid by the Federal Highway Administration.

The design plans will not be submitted to the DPW until this summer, Fitzgerald said. The repair will not begin for at least a year, he added, and it might not start until 1987.

Reconstruction will last either two or three years, estimated Joyce, depending upon whether two lanes of traffic must be kept open.

Because the Charles River Basin is on the national historical register, Fitzgerald said, the rebuilt bridge must look very much like the present design.

Fitzgerald and Joyce presented several alternatives for the design of the new bridge. They recommended that the new superstructure should consist of five sections resting on six girders rather than the present design of six girders supporting 24 sections.

They also suggested a long handicap ramp replace the stairs from the bridge to the Boston Esplenade, and that the entrance ramp to Storrow Drive from the bridge be closed.

Members of the audience made a number of suggestions for the design, including widening the sidewalks or the traffic lanes to better accomodate bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians. The installation of wind screens for the sidewalks was also proposed.

Any written comments should be sent to the DPW, said Carl Cote, a DPW engineer.