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Canoeing under the A. Piatt Andrew bridge in Gloucester

On Wednesday afternoon, not too long before the Minneapolis bridge disaster we went canoeing on the Annisquam River. As we passed under the A. Piatt Andrew bridge which takes Route 128 into the main section of Gloucester I looked up and noticed what bad shape it is in. There is lots of rust on the steel structure.

In this morning's Boston Globe there was a list and map of structurally deficient bridges of which there are apparently 500-600 of them (the article had several different numbers). There was also a map, although no list, and this bridge was one of them. I did a quick check and I see there is a construction project that has cosmetic and some structural repair as well. One of the things they are doing is replacing the ugly chain-link suicide prevention fence with an architecturally nicer one.

The bridge was built almost 60 years ago - before that there was a ferry (there is still a street called Ferry Street) and there is the draw bridge near the harbor that is opened frequently to let boats pass through. The bridge is named after A. Piatt Andrew, a Gloucester resident who among other things started an ambulance service in England and France during WW I.

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I cross that bridge about twice a week, on average. I can well imagine that it is scary underneath. EEk.

Really? What brings you to (or from) Cape Ann?

Is the Rourke Bridge in Lowell on that list? There is a dot in Lowell but there's numerous bridges over the river so there's not enough information to tell.

That one used to scare the #(*&$)#(*&4 out of me every time I crossed it. I eventually quit using it in the evenings because if you sat on it in traffic, you could see the movement as traffic passed you in the other direction. The locals always said it was a "temporary" bridge.

As long as I stay off Highway 973, there are no bridges on the Texas list of "deficient" bridges on my commute.

The NBI database, which I maintain, gives the Piatt Andrew Bridge a sufficiency rating of 32.8 out of 100, which means it is dire need of replacement - it gets poor-to-very-poor ratings for its structure. It was scheduled for replacement starting in 2006 at a cost of more than $20 million, but so far nothing has happened (to my knowledge) and there is no federal money showing up yet. Average daily traffic is about 57,000 vehicles, about one-third the load on the Minneapolis bridge.

As for the Rourke Bridge, it should be on that Massachusetts list, because it is in worse shape than the Piatt Andrew. It gets rated 30.6 out of 100. But it's only 25 years old and gets about 39,000 vehicles across it every day, half the Piatt Andrew, and a quarter of the Minneapolis bridge. Looking at the data I can't pinpoint what exactly is wrong. Some elements get fair to good ratings. I believe it may be a bridge designed without redundant support structures, similar to Minneapolis.

The Rourke is a single-span (one lane, each direction), truss-type bridge where the roadway is surrounded by the truss. Given that it was just 15 years old when I first started to cross it, yikes! I can't imagine what it is like today.

As for the vehicles it carries I don't think it could carry any more. The road to cross it used to back up almost all the way to the Drum Hill Rotary on Route 3 -- considered one of the 5 most dangerous intersections in MA when I lived there.

So it must be the one dot in Lowell. I owe you a drink for letting me know!

Aren't you the ray of sunshine?

Apart from the risk of loss of life in case of a collapse, I really don't want to think about what would happen to Gloucester and Rockport if the Piatt Andrew failed.

Well, you still have your canoes.

I found this in an article in the North Shore Business Journal

Municipality: Gloucester 604797
Project: Bridge Preservation,
G-05-017, Route 128 over Annisquam River
Status: 1st Structural review is complete (75% design stage)
Cost: $14,000,000 - estimate
This bridge is also known as the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge.
The project is a bridge preservation project which will include bridge painting, lighting, deck resurfacing and concrete and other structural and mechanical repairs.

MassHighway is working with the City and the State Preservation Officer on the elements associated with a suicide
deterrent fence that would not negatively impact the historic value of the structure or the panoramic views of the area.
MassHighway presented a proposal on this matter to the City on March 7, 2007. The project design is expected to be ready for advertisement in early fall 2007.

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