$227M Route 79/Braga Bridge Project Largely Complete
A massive highway and accelerated bridge project in Fall River, Massachusetts, is essentially complete after a three-year design-build undertaking that upgraded the interchange between I-195 and Route 79 and rehabilitated the Braga Bridge over the Taunton River.
With a total estimated cost of $227 million, the Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvement project is one of the five largest projects of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's (MassDOT) eight-year, $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP). (See accompanying box for an update on this program.)
Extensive Bridge, Road Work
With its recent completion, the project has improved safety, access and aesthetics near the historic waterfront of the city with the replacement of the deteriorating bi-level Route 79 viaduct by a new surface roadway, reconstruction of nine so-called "spaghetti ramps" connecting Route 79 and I-195, and construction of two new roadways that improve local connections to the waterfront and the Interstate. Pedestrian and bicycle safety have been enhanced through the addition of the three signalized intersections on Route 79, wider sidewalks, bike lanes and a shared-use path.
The project encompassed demolition of 13 bridges together with the rehabilitation and repair of two historic stone arch bridges. In addition, seven new bridges were constructed, which alone required forming and placing 14,200 cubic yards of concrete and erecting 3,000 tons of structural steel. Portions of the new structures were constructed using Accelerated Bridge Techniques such as precast columns and pier caps. Other work involved road reconstruction that required 79,000 cubic yards of earth excavation, placing 48,000 tons of asphalt, installing new storm drain, water main, sanitary and utility ducts totaling 36,600 linear feet, intersections, and building 82,500 square feet of permanent retaining walls.
A Simple Plan Evolves
This ambitious undertaking evolved from a plan in 1999 to simply rehabilitate the 1960s-era Route 79 viaduct and ramps as part of construction of the interchange with the new Interstate, but the design of the project didn't go forward at that time. Viaduct and ramp work planning was later combined with the rehabilitation of the Braga Bridge. And in June 2013, MassDOT awarded a $197 million design-build contract for the Route79/Braga Bridge Improvements Project to Barletta Heavy Division/O&G Industries Joint Venture, with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. heading the design team. MassDOT Highway Division District 5 Office is overseeing the completion of design and construction. MassDOT issued a Notice to Proceed in August 2013.
According to MassDOT, the main purpose of the project is to address structurally deficient bridges. Federal and state funds are contributing to the costs of the project, with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) providing up to 80 percent of project costs, while the state's share is funded through ABP bonds.
Braga Bridge Rehab
The largest single component of the project is the rehabilitation of the 50-year-old Braga Bridge, with an estimated $100 million spent on cleaning and painting the river span to enhance its appearance, and more importantly, making essential structural repairs.
The Charles M. Braga Jr. Memorial Bridge, also known as the Braga Bridge, carries Interstate 195 over the Taunton River between the town of Somerset and the city of Fall River near the mouth of the Quequechan River at the confluence with Mount Hope Bay. A vital link in the area's transportation network linking Massachusetts' south coastal region with Providence, Rhode Island, it is recognized by millions as a Fall River icon and is often shown in photographs with Battleship Cove, home of National Historic Landmark ships including the World War II battleship USS Massachusetts.
At 5,780 feet from abutment to abutment, the structure is one of the longest bridges in Massachusetts. Its three central spans are cantilever Warren through-trusses (vehicle travel surface runs through the truss supported by its bottom chords) while the approach spans are supported by plate girders. The main cantilever span is 804 feet long, while the two side cantilever spans are each 382 feet long. Six travel lanes are accommodated by the 101-foot-wide bridge. Engineers designed the structure to have a clearance above mean high water of 135 feet, to allow the passage of the many tall vessels serving industrial areas and power plants along the Fall River and Somerset sides of the river.
Construction of the Braga Bridge was begun by the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) in late fall 1960 with the boring of test pilings in the Taunton River. Contractors completed the 27 concrete piers that make up the bridge's substructure in October 1962, and began work on the steel superstructure and approaches.
When the bridge opened in 1966, it was dedicated in honor of Charles Braga, Jr., the son of a Fall River mill worker, who was killed aboard the USS Pennsylvania during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As part of bridge construction, Fall River's former City Hall was replaced with the current Fall River Government Center, the first government building constructed over an interstate highway.
High Traffic Spurs Renovations
In the five decades since the bridge was built, traffic has grown significantly, with current daily volumes now running between 80,000 and 100,000 vehicles depending on the season. This wear and tear plus the damaging seaside weather has compelled the State to make a series of renovations over the years.
In 1989, the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) launched a two-year rehabilitation of the span and approaches. This work included replacing the existing deck with a new lightweight concrete deck overlaid with bituminous concrete. Construction crews repaired and repainted structural steel along the 1.1-mile bridge, installed a new concrete Jersey barrier along the center median, and added "suicide fences" to prevent people from deliberately jumping off the 13-story span.
A second renovation was undertaken in 2003 by the Massachusetts Highway Department entailing the placement of a new top concrete layer over the roadway that contained a latex additive designed to resist water seepage to reduce cracking.
A third major rehabilitation began in April 2010 with a new paint job to replace the original lime-green color with dark blue - the results of a survey of public preferences. This was scheduled to be finished by June 2011 but the scope of construction has expanded and continued into 2015 as part of the overall $197-million Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvement contract awarded to Barletta Heavy/O&G Industries.
Full Beneficial Use
Contract work took place in five stages, concurrent with the Braga Bridge Phase II work. Stages 1A through 1C consisted of demolition and reconstruction of Route 79/138, and Stages 2A and 2B consisted of demolition and reconstruction of the I-195 ramps. Full beneficial use of Routes 79, Route 138 and local roads was scheduled for fall 2016.
Accordingly, construction was essentially finished in October 2016, including the Braga Bridge rehab, with all lanes of the structure open for travel.