Installation of Replacement Pedestrian Bridge Across Charles River Begins

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Charlie Breitrose

Pieces of the new Joseph Thompson Pedestrian Bridge were joined together Wednesday so they can be lifted into place Thursday morning.

Sections of the new Joseph Thompson Pedestrian Bridge arrived Wednesday and will be lifted into place on Thursday morning, however it will still be a few weeks before people can meander across the new span.

The bridge has been a topic of discussion and contention for many Watertown residents, especially those living close to the section of the river just west of Watertown Square. Originally planned to be in place by the end of 2017, the new bridge arrived Wednesday.

Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Leo Roy visited the construction site Wednesday afternoon as workers prepared the bridge to be lifted into place on Thursday morning.

The project is part of the effort by the Baker-Polito Administration to allow more people to access parks and recreational areas around Massachusetts, Roy said.

“This is a beautiful example of making sure natural resources can be enjoyed by people of every ability,” Roy said.

The old bridge over the Charles was built about 50 years ago, and so did not have to meet the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, Roy said.

“The problem was the peak was too steep for people in wheelchairs to use it safely,” Roy said. “Everything was grandfathered in, but we felt it should be replaced. It is one of the only things not accessible along the whole river.”

The construction drew much attention from neighbors and those passing by. All seemed excited about the new bridge, but some felt that it should have been here sooner.

Charlie Breitrose

A 340 ton-crane moves one of the pieces of the new pedestrian bridge over the Charles River so it can be prepared for installation.

David Cain, who lives near the bridge on Pleasant Street, said he used to be able to walk to Stop & Shop on Watertown Street in 10 minutes, but without the bridge the time of the trip doubled.

“I was there when they put in the construction shed last spring. They said it would be finished by November,” Cain said. “It has been a year. This is incompetence by the DCR”

Cain hopes that the bridge will be ready to use by the time the DCR’s Dealtry Pool opens for the summer — typically the end of June.

While the main span of the bridge will be installed Thursday, Roy said more work must be done, including building the approaches and landscaping.

“It will probably open on July 1,” Roy said.

Charlie Breitrose

A worker bolts together to of the four pieces of the new span over the Charles River on Wednesday.

Roy said he did not know the exact details of why the bridge was delayed. According to a report to the Watertown Conservation Commission in December, the original manufacturer could not complete the work, so a new manufacturer was chosen.

The bridge arrived in four pieces, two on the California Street side and two on the Pleasant Street side. They could not be delivered in two long pieces because they would be too long to be transported, said Dan Green, inspector for the project.

The four sections, two on each side of the river, were bolted together into one piece on either side of the river. Starting about 7 a.m. Thursday, Green said, the two cranes will lift the pieces into place.

“They will be will be affixed to the footing here and the same thing on the other side,” Green said. “Then they will be joined with a plate and bolted together. I think there are 32 bolts in total. It should take three to four hours.”

The frame of the bridge is made out of steel, and the deck and sides are covered with ipe (pronounced “EE-pay”) wood, Roy said.

“It is a special tropical wood. It lasts 75 years. It costs more, but it will last longer than the last bridge,” Roy said. “Also, it is a very close-grained wood, so there will be no splintering.”

Scroll through more photos of the bridge site below:

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