A 57-year-old span of bridge in Boston is giving boaters a reason to panic. Over the past two weeks, debris falling from the Tobin Bridge has broken windshields and caused other damages to the boats and vehicles below at the Chelsea Yacht Club.
One boater on a television newscast the other night showed a piece of the 1,525-ft bridge over the Mystic River that fell onto his boat. It had the green paint of the frame and underneath was rust. It was undoubtably from the Tobin bridge.
Over the past two weeks six boats at the club have been damaged, but this isn’t the first time. Over the years flakes of rust the size of about a quarter, have continuously fallen on the yacht club. According to a recent news interview, Angelo Tummino, the commodore of the club, the size of these pieces have increased and now are about 4 to 5 inches in diameter.
But Massachusetts Port Authority officials are saying that although this is happening, it is not affecting the structural integrity of the structure. So then are they telling us that the bridge is structurally sound but it’s OK if the bottom falls out of it? Something is just not right here.
As an emergency measure, Massport officials are planning to stretch a net beneath the bridge to catch chunks of falling concrete and metal.
Richard Walsh, a Massport spokesman, told the Boston Herald today that the steel panels used to form concrete during the bridge’s construction are rotting and falling from the bridge, taking chunks of concrete with them. The bridge’s decking is scheduled to be replaced next spring as part of a $15 million maintenance project.
Maintained by Massport, the Tobin was erected in 1948-49 and opened to traffic in 1950. The bridge connects the Charlestown section of Boston with Chelsea and provides three travel lanes northbound on its lower level and three lanes southbound on the upper level. The roadway is 36 ft wide. According to the Massport website, the main structure of the Tobin is a three-span, cantilevered truss 1,525′ in length. Its center span is 800 ft and the maximum truss height is 115 ft. It provides a navigable waterway opening 700 ft wide by 135 ft high. A smaller, simply supported warren truss spans the Little Mystic. It reaches a maximum truss height of 65 ft and is 439 ft long. Its navigable waterway opening measures 340 ft wide by 100 ft high.
In the wake of last week’s highway bridge collapse in Minnesota, and last year’s fatality when a ceiling collapsed in one of Boston’s Big Dig tunnels last summer, officials are working hard to ensure infrastructure in and around the city is safe. Yet, to simply put a net underneath the bridge to catch falling debris for now doesn’t really sound like a long-term solution. Let’s just hope this 50 plus year old structure can maintain its integrity until next Spring and keep our motorists safe and that the net can catch everything that is likely to fall. For now, I’ll avoid it, just as I’ve avoided the Ted Williams Tunnel from the day of its opening.