Pothole Fixed, But Long Road Ahead For Bridge Repairs

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The morning commute is looking clear. All lanes on I-93 North, near Medford, are open again after workers successfully closed a gaping pothole on a bridge that snarled traffic Wednesday.

With the state spending billions of dollars on road and bridge repairs, WBUR's Fred Thys went in search of the giant hole in the road late Wednesday morning.

BOSTON — As I pull onto the Leverett Connector, traffic is completely tied up, bumper to bumper.

My mission: to make it to the pothole that somewhere along I-93 is backing up traffic all the way back to the connector. We wanted to find out what happened to the state's $3 billion program to revamp its infrastructure, to repair all those old bridges and, presumably, potholes as well.

The answer would come at a news conference with Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan.

The bridge deck with the potholes is 50 years old. The concrete was at the end of its useful life.

"The number of structurally deficient bridges in the commonwealth has gone down by 10 percent," Mullan said.

But the I-93 bridge where the potholes have appeared was not included. "We are now shifting the program into the accelerated bridge program," Mullan said.

When I set out for the pothole, On Point was on the air.

I begin my merge onto I-93, and traffic is, of course, at a crawl on that highway as well.

The bridge deck with the potholes is 50 years old. The concrete was at the end of its useful life. Mullan says it had not been put on a fast track for rebuilding because there were bridges in worse condition.

"The condition of our roads and bridges in the commonwealth is, in some cases, shocking," Mullan said. "We're spending, this year, over $1 billion fixing them, and for many years, too many years, we did not repair 'em. There are a lot of roads and bridges that we need to get to."

From an overpass just past the Schrafft's factory, I can see pretty far up ahead. Traffic is just bumper-to-bumper heading North.

A sign says: "Sitting in traffic? Not anymore... if you work here!" I pass a Volkswagen Passat that broke down in the left lane. By this point, Robin Young is launching into Here and Now.

"The condition of our roads and bridges in the commonwealth is, in some cases, shocking."

Jeffrey Mullan, state Transportation secretary

By the time Terry Gross starts Fresh Air, an hour-and-a-half into the drive, I'm approaching Malden, and it's still stop-and-go traffic.

I'm at Exit 31. This pothole problem is supposed to be at Exit 33, and one of the things that amazes me is that nobody is getting off the highway.

The guy in the blue Honda Civic right in front of me keeps sticking his torso out to look out to see just how bad the traffic is just up ahead. We're at Exit 32 now — Medford Square, Malden. Exit 33 looms beyond.

I've been wanting to catch up to this family, because they seem like they're in a good mood despite all of this.

They're the Murphys. The dad, Mike Murphy, is driving next to me, taking his family to North Conway, N.H. "We're missing half a day we could have had up at the camp site," Murphy tells me.

As Talk of the Nation begins, I start to see cones on the road. The four lanes converge to one. Vehicles from the Massachusetts Highway Department begin to line the road, then state troopers, then the workers. I hear jackhammers.

I can't see the road surface, just the guys with the jackhammers. Traffic picks up speed, and I tuck into Exit 33 for the road back to Boston, which takes just five minutes.

This program aired on August 5, 2010.

Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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