The Fore River Bridge, constructed as a temporary structure a decade ago, has long outlasted its original intent and the patience of South Shore residents who regularly deal with its creaking infrastructure and rush-hour openings.
A new bridge, controversial itself but far superior to the current one, according to state officials, is scheduled to open in five years at a cost of $244 million. Its design, Gov. Deval Patrick said during a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, is "thoughtful and sensible."
"It certainly beats the temporary bridge we have now," Patrick said.
Humor about the vertical lift bridge looming behind local, state and federal officials ran throughout the event, lending a lighter tone to what the officials acknowledged is a serious issue for residents of Weymouth, Quincy and towns throughout the area.
"This is a day that is long overdue," Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, said. "Hopefully it will be a safe, efficient project that will come in on time and under budget."
The project, part of Patrick's Accelerated Bridge Program that began in 2008, involves widening the Fore River channel and creating a structure that has a higher vertical clearance, allowing for fewer openings.
Critics of the new bridge's design, selected by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, have included officials from Weymouth, Braintree and Quincy, along with residents of the towns. They have called the vertical lift design expensive and cumbersome, and a bascule-style design more visually appealing and easier to maintain.
Construction has also been a concern, especially regarding traffic that could be pushed into other areas of Weymouth and surrounding towns. Mayor Sue Kay said on Friday that she spoke with project managers and is optimistic that construction will proceed smoothly. It is scheduled to happen in several phases and be completed by fall 2016.
"I have been assured there will be the least amount of negative impacts," Kay said.
The MassDOT, on its project website, notes that during most of the construction period the bridge will remain open at full capacity, though there will be some limits to that capacity. Planning of those limits will take place between the state and local officials, with advance notice to residents. Access to adjacent businesses will be maintained.
Contact information related to the project can be found at http://www.massdotprojectsforeriverbridge.info/contact.html.
The new bridge will have two, 12-foot wide travel lanes on each side, along with five-foot bike lanes, according to a state press release. Pedestrian sidewalks will be six and a half feet wide on the bridge and expand to nine feet on the approaches. JF White and Skanska-Koch will collaborate on the project.
"This is the culmination of a long, long process," Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, said. "This is vital. If you've traveled it at rush hour you know."
Rep. James Murphy, D-Weymouth, who was re-elected earlier this week, came into office around the same time the temporary bridge was built.
"It's nice to know that the bridge is temporary and I wasn't," he said.
MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard Davey joked that he has known Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, "certainly longer than the temporary bridge" has been around.
"The steel reminds me of the erector sets I did as a kid," Chan said.