MassDOT Plans Bridge Replacement Process


The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has released a Request for Proposals to obtain a transportation planning and engineering consultant team for the replacement of the Tobin Bridge.

The decision to reportedly replace the structure comes just a few months after the city began its clean up efforts to remove the lead paint chips that had been falling off of the structure, posing health concerns for local residents.

Bridge Background

In April, MassDOT issued a Lead Paint Chip Advisory informing the public that paint chips were observed to have started falling off of the Tobin Bridge between Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts. In the announcement, MassDOT stated that the paint chips were likely to contain lead, which can cause serious health problems, especially in children. The Department advised residents not to allow children to touch or play near any paint chips found and suggested that concerned parents get their children tested for lead exposure. 

MassDOT said at the time that its contractor would begin vacuuming the paint chips and safely disposing of them, starting in parking lots and then moving to yards, sidewalks and other areas under the bridge.

According to MassDOT, the Tobin Bridge is over 75 years old, and the cycle of freezing and thawing over many years has heightened the issue of falling paint chips, causing steel exposures and bridge decay to happen at a faster rate.

Then, in June, MassDOT held a public meeting to hear residents’ concerns and give updates about the next steps being taken after lead paint chips reportedly began falling off of the bridge into nearby yards in Chelsea. 

Workers were to reportedly continue vacuuming lead chips around and under the bridge in preparation for paint removal and repairs, which were expected to begin in spring of 2024. Additionally, netting was reportedly planned be added around the columns to catch any more paint chips that may fall off.

The removal, in addition to repairs, had reportedly cost $125 million and was projected to take around four years to complete. Officials stated that no permanent lane closures would take place during the project, in which crews will work to remove old paint, complete repairs and repaint the steel.

According to MassDOT, lead paint is currently present in 30% of all steel structures in the U.S. and Massachusetts, being an industry standard up until the 1990s. The Tobin Bridge had reportedly been repainted numerous times over its lifespan, but some brittle lead-based coatings have remained on parts of the structure.

Additionally, in September, MassDOT began mitigation efforts for the toxic lead paint chips that had been falling from the bridge.

According to a report from the Boston Herald, environmental advocates in Chelsea started to see less paint chips fall to the ground after a temporary netting was installed. Vacuuming of the surrounding area had also begun at the time.

New strategies had reportedly been in place as MassDOT planned to then take on a larger project that would have included cleaning the 2-mile bridge and removing and replacing its decades-old coatings.

The report stated that the project, estimated to last up to four years and cost $127.9 million, could also repair the bridge’s over 75-year-old steel and concrete.

MassDOT’s Capital Programs Committee approved moving the project to the agency’s Board of Directors on Sept. 13. Additionally, GreenRoots was reportedly one of the groups providing insight to MassDOT on what residents want to see get done to further protect the community while the project is under construction.

Current News

The department’s latest release states that the RFP is expected to build a team to help MassDOT’s Office of Transportation Planning with a study to get the project into the development process once the bridge is approved to be replaced.

According to MassDOT, the average daily traffic across the bridge is around 87,000 vehicles, causing the Route 1 corridor to back up regularly during peak hours and operate at near capacity.

“The time is now to start taking the steps needed with planning and engineering decisions about the future of the Tobin Bridge. Before the Tobin Bridge reaches the end of its useful life, we’re initiating a long-term strategic planning study to guide us on what type of facility should be built to replace it,” said Acting Transportation Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt. 

“This will also allow us to address any other deficiencies, and to think about opportunities we may have to improve future transit priority and multimodal travel over the Mystic River.”

Environmental review for the study will reportedly include the impacts on ecosystems, habitats and overall environment, including air quality and greenhouse gas impacts, environmental justice areas, navigable waterways and designated Port Areas, as well as Chapter 91 boundaries.

Additionally, along with analyzing these impacts, this study will look at greenhouse gas emissions, flooding, urban heat islands and climate change mitigation measures and metrics.

The release states that with the number of stakeholders in the Tobin Bridge area, the study’s scope of work advises beginning a robust public engagement process. This would reportedly include the creation of a Working Group that could invite important stakeholders to engage.

Examples for the working group included the City of Chelsea, the City of Boston, Massport, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, advocacy groups and community organizations. 

Public engagement would also reportedly include public meetings, stakeholder meetings, briefings, a study website and outreach workshops. The Working Group is expected to work with a chosen consultant team at the start of the study process to develop and maintain a public involvement plan for equity, multi-modal travel, community impacts and socioeconomic factors.

The Tobin Bridge is reportedly kept in a state of good repair, with preventative measures and maintenance projects scheduled each year to keep up safe operating conditions.

On Sept. 20, members of the MassDOT Board of Directors reportedly approved a contract for around $128 million for Tobin Bridge repairs while the bridge’s replacement is evaluated. 

The scope of work, according to the release, included:

  • Cleaning existing steel and removing old paint on the Chelsea approach lower level mainline (northbound), Beacon Street ramp, upper level mainline (southbound) and Everett Avenue ramp;
  • Performing repairs to the existing Chelsea approach steel superstructure elements, and safety walk elements at the lower level mainline, Beacon Street ramp, upper level mainline and Everett Avenue ramp;
  • Upon completion of steel repairs, painting the existing steel;
  • Performing repairs to substructure elements; and
  • Repairs to concrete substructure elements.

Construction for the Tobin Bridge’s maintenance repairs will reportedly be done in a way that minimizes the impact on local neighborhoods and to the public. Additionally, the release states that no permanent lane closures on the bridge are expected during construction and no impacts are expected to adjacent roadways.

“This study is an investment in our future as it will not only prepare us to replace the Tobin Bridge but to also modernize the connection with a deep focus on climate resiliency and how to incorporate multimodal transportation options,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Cleanup; Coating failure; Coating Materials; Corrosion; Department of Transportation (DOT); Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lead; Lead paint abatement; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Paint; Paint Removal; Program/Project Management

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