Photos: DCR’s Pedestrian Bridges Are Crumbling Away

Deterioration of the concrete deck on DCR's Sibler Street pedestrian overpass over Storrow Drive.
Deterioration of the concrete deck on DCR's Sibler Street pedestrian overpass over Storrow Drive.

Five days have passed since BU professor David Jones died on a dangerous staircase next to the JFK/UMass T station, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which controls the streets above and below the stairway, is still not responding to reporters’ inquiries about the staircase, its history of safety inspections, or why it’s been missing several of its steps for over a year.

On Wednesday evening, while still awaiting answers from the agency’s officials, StreetsblogMASS surveyed several other pedestrian bridges over other DCR roadways and found extensive deferred maintenance issues on many of those structures as well.

Along the Charles River, a handful of footbridges over Storrow Drive, Memorial Drive, and Soldiers Field Road connect densely-populated city neighborhoods with the popular riverfront parks along the Charles.

A few of them – namely the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge, which was renovated earlier this summer, and the Frances Appleton Footbridge, built in 2018 – are in excellent condition.

The newly-renovated Fiedler Footbridge over Storrow Drive.
The newly-renovated Fiedler Footbridge over Storrow Drive, pictured on Sept. 15, 2021.

But many of the DCR’s other footbridges bear extensive signs of their age.

Underside of the Dartmouth Street pedestrian overpass over Storrow Drive, showing concrete failure and exposed, rusted rebar.
Underside of the Dartmouth Street pedestrian overpass over Storrow Drive, showing concrete spalling and exposed, rusted rebar. Photographed on Sept. 15, 2021.

DCR would did not respond to Streetsblog’s inquiry about how old these bridges are, but historic photographs suggest that many of them date to the 1950s, when Storrow Drive was originally built.

Overpasses at Dartmouth Street, Fairfield Street, and Sibler Way all employ similar designs, and exhibit similar signs of deterioration.

Underside of Fairfield St. overpass over Storrow Drive, showing concrete spalling.
The underside of Fairfield St. overpass over Storrow Drive, showing concrete spalling.

These older overpasses exhibit extensive signs of concrete spalling – deterioration of the concrete from many years’ worth of exposure to the elements, and from corrosion of the embedded steel rebar.

Because spalling reduces the thickness of the concrete deck, it can also reduce the overall strength of the structure, while also exposing underlying steel elements to even more corrosion.

Steel corrosion on the Dartmouth Street pedestrian overpass
Steel corrosion and concrete damage on the Dartmouth Street pedestrian overpass.

In general, the structural steel beams on these overpasses did appear to be better maintained, with relatively fresh coats of paint.

However, the beams also bear visible scars from decades of  “storrowings” – the frequent crashes that occur when over-height trucks ignore “cars only” signage and slam at high speeds into the low-clearance footbridges.

The structural steel on the Fairfield Street pedestrian overpass over Storrow Drive exhibits scratches and dents from frequent crashes caused by over-height trucks.
The structural steel on the Fairfield Street pedestrian overpass over Storrow Drive exhibits scratches and dents from “storrowings” – crashes caused by over-height trucks.

Further west, in Allston, a pedestrian overpass over Soldiers Field Road near Telford Street has been identified as being in need of repair since 2018, when DCR held a public hearing for a $3.5 million project that would have replaced the bridge deck and upgraded a nearby crosswalk.

At the time, DCR said that the project would go under construction in 2019. Judging by the condition of the bridge on Wednesday, that project still hasn’t happened:

Concrete deterioration o the Telford Street overpass, which connects Allston to the Charles River parkland north of Soldiers Field Road.
Concrete deterioration on the Telford Street overpass, which connects Allston to the Charles River parkland north of Soldiers Field Road.

 

On Monday and again on Thursday, StreetsblogMASS requested information about DCR’s bridge inspection and maintenance schedule, but DCR did not respond to those requests.

StreetsblogMASS has also filed a formal public records request for inspection and maintenance reports for the staircase between Old Colony Avenue and Columbia Road near the JFK/UMass MBTA station. DCR will be required to respond before the end of this month.

 

 

 

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