The state and federal government are going to pay to fix the Oak Street Bridge. But the design might take more than a year, and construction will not be done until 2015, Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
“I don’t want to mislead people [into thinking] it’s going to be open in 90 days. That’s not going to happen,” he said.
The bridge, which is owned by CSX, was closed in April after failing two inspections over the course of a year.
The railroad refused to fix the seriously deteriorated piers supporting the span, arguing with Amtrak about who was legally responsible for the piers. Finally city officials said the piers were so badly damaged that the bridge was unsafe for vehicular traffic.
That created new problems. The bridge was widely used by a neighborhood that is cut off on two sides by train tracks. Now, traffic sometimes backs up for many blocks as those residents take a mile-long detour to get to the rest of the city.
During bad storms this winter, city officials may have to stage emergency vehicles in the neighborhood because it would be so difficult to get there without bridge access.
City Engineer Chris Wallin managed to persuade state and federal officials that the bridge had to be a priority. He got them to jump-start the project, with immediate design work this year.
“He did a good job of getting it prioritized and moved through,” McCarthy said. “We’ll get it going as quickly as we can. I’ve got to do whatever I can to minimize the inconvenience for people who are already being inconvenienced.”
But there’s no quick fix. Because it is such a complex situation, engineering design is not expected to be done until the end of 2014, McCarthy said. It’s not yet clear whether it can be repaired or must be demolished and rebuilt, but the state’s goal is to preserve rather than replace the bridge.
The city will receive about $2 million for the work and will have to pay 5 percent of the total cost.
McCarthy said the city is also still trying to negotiate a payment from CSX.
When the bridge was closed, city Director of Operations William Winkler said the ideal solution would be to pay for the work and then sue the railroads to cover the cost. But, he said, the city couldn’t afford to front the money for the project.
He said that in any scenario, the city would pay some money for the construction. The bridge is shared by the railroad and the city, with the railroad in charge of the supports and the city maintaining the roadway.