1. What is the project all about?
The purpose of the Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvements Project is to address structurally deficient bridges. "Structurally deficient" means the bridge deck (driving surface), supports beneath the deck, or supporting columns and piers were rated in poor condition and need repair. The project began as a rehabilitation project—repairing and replacing elements of the bridges—and has evolved into a project that will remove the elevated roadways and replace them with a surface roadway that improves access and safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.
2. What is the history of the interchange?
The Route 79 viaduct and ramps were built in 1965 as part of construction of the interchange with I-195. The viaduct and ramps are in need of extensive repairs. In 1999, a major rehabilitation design contract was initiated, but MassDOT determined that the extent of the repairs needed was greater than previously identified. The 1999 rehabilitation project did not advance. In 2009 a Value Engineering Study suggested that there were advantages to removing the viaduct, and MassDOT agreed to study the idea in detail.
3. What are the project limits?
The Fall River Interchange Project covers the area from Broadway/Columbia Street north to the existing turnaround under Route 79 near Cedar Street. The project includes the area from Water Street/Ponta Delgada Boulevard east to Milliken Boulevard. See attached figure.
4. Who is in charge of the project?
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Highway Division, is managing the project. The District 5 office will oversee the completion of design and construction.
5. When is construction expected to begin?
Milliken Boulevard is currently under construction to better accommodate traffic during the interchange improvement project. General project construction is expected to start in fall 2013 and full beneficial use of Route 79 and the I-195 ramps is scheduled to be completed in fall 2016.
6. What is the estimated construction cost and who is funding the project?
On June 19, 2013, the MassDOT Board of Directors authorized the award of a $197 million Design/Build (D/B) contract to Barletta Heavy/O&G Joint Venture to complete the final design and construct the project. Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) leads the design team. MassDOT issued the Notice to Proceed in August 2013. The project is eligible for Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funding up to 80% of the project costs. The state's share is funded through Accelerated Bridge Program bonds.
7. What are the details of the design and why did MassDOT select this over other alternatives?
After studying more than 12 conceptual alternatives, MassDOT determined that one alternative best addresses the project’s purpose and need, while incorporating community interests to the greatest extent possible: removing elevated Route 79 south of Cedar Street and replacing it with a surface street that will combine Route 79 north and southbound traffic with Route 138 and Davol Street traffic. The new "at-grade" roadway will be combined with Davol Street, which is actually one level above ground level. The railroad is at ground level. Two new roadways (Water Street Connector and Milliken Connector) will improve local connections to the waterfront and to I-195. Traffic signals on the new Route 79 at Central and Anawan streets and at the new Water Street Connector will improve traffic flow and pedestrian and bicycle access. MassDOT will construct a shared-use path connecting Milliken Boulevard to Route 79 as well as other improvements for bicycles and pedestrians in the project area.
8. Why not just rehabilitate the elevated roadways and ramps?
MassDOT studied rehabilitating or replacing the viaduct and ramps. However, rehabilitation does not provide as many long-term life-cycle benefits as MassDOT’s preferred alternative. Rehabilitating the existing structures will not improve access to the waterfront from I-195 and Route 79, will do little to improve area aesthetics and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, and will not correct substandard roadway geometry that contributes to vehicular safety issues.
9. What stage of design has the project achieved?
A 25% design public hearing was held on January 9, 2013 and the project team is developing 75% design documents. Environmental review was completed with the release of the Environmental Assessment (EA) in June 2012. Based on the EA, on December 3, 2012, the FHWA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact under the National Environmental Policy Act and its regulations.
10. How can the public participate during the final design and construction phase?
Community-wide meetings are held at key points during design, with the next one expected to take place in September 2013. The Meetings & Documents page (link) lists all upcoming community-wide meetings and summaries of past meetings.
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11. What is the relationship of this project to proposals to daylight the Quequechan River in this location?
The proposed interchange project does not include daylighting the Quequechan River (restoring the river in an open channel instead of in a culvert). Restoring the historic falls would involve putting Pocasset Street into a tunnel, removing all I-195 connecting ramps and acquiring private property. This concept is not being pursued as part of the interchange project.
12. What is the relationship of this project to the proposed South Coast Rail Project?
MassDOT Highway Division is coordinating with MassDOT's South Coast Rail Project team and the railroad’s freight operator, Mass Coastal Railroad. The interchange project will enhance freight and passenger rail service in the project area in several ways. The proposed interchange project will raise the Anawan Street Bridge over the railroad, which would benefit South Coast Rail trains and other freight service and will allow access to a proposed platform near the Gates of the City monument.
13. What is the relationship of this project to Fall River's proposal to lower Route 79 near President Avenue and create an "urban boulevard"?
Fall River's Master Plan includes a goal of enhancing access to and development of its waterfront. One action item to advance the goal was to combine Route 79 and Davol Street to create an at-grade boulevard north of the interchange project. MassDOT’s Office of Transportation Planning started a Route 79/Davol Street Corridor Study in 2012 to follow up on the city’s 2008 study of alternatives to improve the development potential of the waterfront. The study will strive to balance transportation needs and improve connectivity within the corridor to support economic development opportunities. The study website is www.massdot.state.ma.us/route79/. Although independent of the Route 79/Davol Street Corridor Study, the Fall River Interchange Improvement Project is compatible with the city’s proposal.
14. Will the interchange project result in land that will be made available to developers?
The proposed project will not open land for development. Most of the ramps connecting Route 79 to I-195, Route 138 and local streets will be replaced in more or less the same location, so opportunities for development do not exist. The site is so constrained that most small areas that will not be used for roadways, ramps or bridges are likely to be used for stormwater detention.
15. Will the project improve stormwater management?
The project includes replacement of deficient and non-compliant drainage systems and construction of separate storm and sewer infrastructure in compliance with the city’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) program. The design also addresses stormwater runoff treatment for controlled discharge and will improve the quality of the water discharged into the Taunton River watershed.
16. Access from Route 79 and I-195 eastbound to the waterfront will be much simpler with the new interchange, but will any traffic movements or connections be eliminated?
All current connections from Route 79, Route 138, I-195 and Milliken Boulevard will remain, but a number of connections will change due to the removal of the viaduct and changes to on- and off-ramps. Access from the waterfront to Milliken Boulevard will be enhanced via the proposed Water Street Connector and Milliken Connector. The on-ramp from Central/Milliken to I-195 westbound will be removed, and vehicles from Milliken Boulevard to I-195 eastbound will instead access I-195 via the Milliken Connector. Vehicles from I-195 eastbound headed to the Central Business District will go to Route 79 and Pocasset Street to a newly realigned two-way Connector Street up to Milliken Boulevard.
17. The project is in a historic district. Will any historic structures be impacted?
Route 79 travels through the American Printing Company–Metacomet Mill Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. MassDOT took care to design the project to avoid adverse impacts to any structure in the Historic District. The two stone-arch bridges on Central Street, one over the railroad and one over the Quequechan River, are eligible for inclusion in the National Register. Reconfiguring the intersection of Central Street and Davol Street/Route 79 will impact a portion of the wall of the Central Street Bridge over the river. The Massachusetts Historical Commission reviewed plans and proposed mitigation and determined there would be no adverse effect.
18. With all Route 79 traffic traveling on the new surface street, how will pedestrians safely cross Route 79/Broadway Extension to get to the waterfront and Battleship Cove?
The interchange project will improve conditions for pedestrians. There will be three new signalized intersections on the at-grade Route 79/Broadway Extension with pedestrian phases and crosswalks. These new signals at Central Street, Anawan Street and Water Street Connector will make it safer to cross the new Route 79/Broadway Extension. New and improved crosswalks will be added throughout much of the project area. MassDOT discussed a pedestrian bridge crossing Route 79 with the community but determined that because it would have permanent impacts on Heritage State Park, undesirable visual impacts, and long term life-cycle costs, a pedestrian bridge will not be part of this project.
19. How will conditions improve for bicyclists?
The project provides a new shared-use path (for bicycles and pedestrians) between Milliken Boulevard and Route 79. Along the new Water Street Connector, there will be 5-foot bike lanes on both sides of the roadway. Additionally, along the southbound side of Route 79/Davol Street, the existing sidewalk along Heritage State Park will be widened to provide for a shared use path. Bike racks also will added throughout the project area.
20. What is the purpose of the Water Street Connector? Will it impact the Gates of the City?
The two-way Water Street Connector will improve access to and egress from the waterfront, supplementing Central Street (one-way westbound) and Anawan Street (one-way eastbound). It also will lead to the proposed site of the Fall River South Coast Rail Battleship Cove station. The Water Street Connector will not permanently impact the Gates of the City monument, but construction activities are likely to restrict activities there for a period.
21. Will residential or business relocations be needed for the project?
No, the project is not expected to require any business or residential relocations. Minor amounts of private property right-of-way takings and/or easements will be needed to build structures such as retaining walls. A portion of the Southern Union Company property at the rear of Anawan Street will be taken to build the Water Street Connector. Two complete takings will be required, but these are small vacant or undeveloped parcels.
22. Will the new at-grade roadway create a noise impact to nearby homes?
No. MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration define a traffic noise impact as a sound level at a residence of 66 decibels (dBA) or if future sound levels are projected to increase by 10 dBA or more over the existing levels. Some homes and outdoor spaces near the interchange could experience an increase of up to 3 dBA after the proposed project is built, but a 3 dBA increase is barely audible. An increase of 5 dBA is noticeable, but no homes in the project area will experience an increase of 5 dBA.
23. How will MassDOT tear down a viaduct and build a new interchange without creating significant traffic impacts?
The project will be built in phases to minimize impacts. New roadways will be built to allow some traffic to be shifted to remove the viaduct and/or ramps. In addition, MassDOT is using innovative Accelerated Bridge Construction techniques to speed construction. Detours for road closures will be coordinated with the city. Access to the waterfront will be maintained at all times. Advance notification to abutters and a public information program and variable message signs will be used to inform drivers of the schedule and planned detours. The sequence of work can be viewed in this animation. Construction and traffic updates will be available via the project website, by email and through various social media platforms.