Falls Bridge Will Close For Emergency Repairs in February

The one-month repair job will keep the bridge in serviceable condition until a full rehab can take place about six years from now. A reduced weight limit and truck ban went into effect immediately.

Motorists who use the Falls Bridge will need to scope out detour routes for the month of February, when the bridge will be closed for emergency repairs. In addition, some of them should plan on using those detours for the next six years while the Streets Department prepares to fully rehabilitate the span.

The emergency repairs are needed because a routine inspection of the bridge produced evidence of significant deterioration in the stringers — the steel cables that connect the bridge’s road deck to the floor beams that hang beneath the bridge’s through truss. The Streets Department immediately reduced the bridge’s weight limit from six to three tons and banned all truck traffic in the wake of the inspection last week and is currently soliciting bids for emergency repairs from contractors.

The department expects the repairs to begin by February 1st. While contractors install new brackets and plates on the span, the bridge will be closed to all motor vehicles to prevent vibrations from affecting the contractors’ work. Streets Department Chief Engineer and Surveyor Darin Gatti said that while a final decision on keeping the bridge open to bicycles and pedestrians has not yet been made, the department intends to do so if it can. Gatti expects the repairs to be completed 30 to 40 days after they start.

Gatti explained that the Streets Department routinely inspects all city bridges every two years. “Bridges generally deteriorate at a very slow rate,” he said. “But when you get to the end of a bridge’s life span, you see a sudden acceleration in deterioration.” The Falls Bridge was built in 1894-’95.

A complete rehab of the bridge includes stripping off its paint, removing and replacing all the rusted steel, replacing the pads on which the bridge deck rests and replacing the deck itself. Gatti estimates that the full rehab will cost anywhere from $5 million to $6 million, and because of the size and the scope of the job, it will take six years for the necessary reviews to be completed, funding secured, and contracts let. The reduced weight limit is expected to remain in place until the full rehab is compete six years from now.

“We did a rehab in 1986, and now it’s time for another one,” Gatti said. “It’s a historic structure, and we want to preserve it because it’s unique.”

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