Tobin Bridge’s future up in the air; MassDOT to study potential replacement

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After years of repairs to the Tobin Bridge, MassDOT has started discussing whether the structure will be viable for future generations.

The agency will be releasing a request for proposals on Friday “to procure a transportation planning and engineering consultant team to develop and evaluate options for the eventual replacement” of the bridge, according to acting Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt.

Since opening in 1950, the 2-mile bridge has carried traffic over the Mystic River between Boston and Chelsea, and repair projects have become increasingly commonplace, some leading to lane closures.

“Repairs are not a permanent solution,” Tibbits-Nutt told the MassDOT Board of Directors on Wednesday. “That’s (why) we are releasing the RFP for a planning and engineering team to do a study which is intended to help us think and gather perspective on the bridge’s future, while it’s still in good working order.”

Wednesday’s board meeting marked Tibbits-Nutt’s first as acting secretary, taking over for Gina Fiandaca, who suddenly announced in late August she’d be stepping down from her role leading the state’s highway divisions on Sept. 11.

Case in point to Tibbits-Nutt’s assertion is how the board, later in the meeting, unanimously approved a $127.9 million project that will repair the Tobin’s steel and concrete, and remove its decades-old paint with new coatings.

That project, estimated to last up to four years, will not result in any permanent lane closures or impacts to adjacent roadways, according to officials. This endeavor comes after residents grew concerned earlier this year when toxic lead paint chips from the Tobin fell onto their homes and yards.

For the study on the bridge’s future, the transportation planning and engineering consultant team will collaborate with state officials for two years after a notice to proceed. An environmental review will be included, analyzing impacts on ecosystems, habitats and the overall environment, Tibbits-Nutt said.

MassDOT’s Office of Transportation Planning has finalized the scope of the work for the conceptual planning study.

“Given the number and variety of stakeholders in the Tobin Bridge area, the study’s scope of work proposes a robust public engagement process,” Tibbits-Nutt said.

Community collaborations will include a working group composed of “key stakeholders” from the cities of Chelsea and Boston, MassPort, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, advocacy groups and community organizations.

Within the past handful of years, MassDOT has invested hundreds of millions into repairing the Tobin, including a roughly $169 million rehab of its surface and work on a viaduct in Chelsea as well as a $20.9 million effort to improve its structure and safety walk.

“The time is now,” Tibbits-Nutt said. “I think anyone who has been on the Tobin Bridge [would agree]. We need to be taking the steps needed with the planning and engineering decisions to replace the Tobin Bridge with a similar but also alternative infrastructure.”

Boston, MA - September 20, 2023: The Tobin Bridge, viewed from the North End. (Staff Photo By Chris Christoi/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
After years of repairs to the Tobin Bridge, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has started discussing whether the structure will actually be viable for generations to come. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

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