An interview with Senator Steve Baddour

Senator talks about the Ward Hill Bridge, legislative priorities for 2011


State Senator Steve Baddour appeared on the Paying Attention! radio program with Tom Duggan and Paul Murano on WHAV.NET to discuss the Ward Hill Bridge.

Tom Duggan: I know that you are head of the transportation committee in the Senate … can you just give us a snapshot of why is it that the people of Haverhill are waiting so long to get this bridge [at Ward Hill] done and maybe a time frame for getting it done?

Baddour: Well, they should not be waiting and, again, I understand the frustration here and I drive that road as well. So, it is frustrating.

The City Counselor in Haverhill did a great job in raising the issue. We have a meeting, actually, scheduled for this Friday with a number of City Counselors, the Mayor, some of the Police Chiefs, Fire Chiefs, we are going to do a conference call with Mass DOT (Department of Transportation) and we are going to get to the bottom of why it’s taking so long and what the time frame in terms of getting it done.
Obviously, when you are doing bridge repair work in New England, especially in Massachusetts, the weather conditions are a factor, you know, for 20 years we’ve ignored the maintenance and the repair, so what happens is, you get under a bridge and start repairing and you realize it’s a lot worse than what you thought. Unfortunately, it’s taken a lot longer than anyone wishes to fix that bridge. We will get to the bottom of it and get it fixed as soon as we can.

Duggan: Now, when they go in and they do the assessment of what it’s going to cost to do a bridge, you said that they didn’t realize how much decay there was underneath the bridge, etc. etc. They didn’t realize how bad that it was. It seems as though… isn’t that somebody’s job to go out there and accurately assess what it is going to cost, what the damage is, what the decay is before they start the project?

Baddour: Well, they assess it to the best they can. It’s a structural. Hey look, I’m a lay person too when it comes to modern engineering, but when they go in, they do the analysis. And then, when they get in there and they start ripping it apart they get into the structure, that’s when they really get a real, true assessment of the decay and the problem. And again, when they went in there and when they looked at it, it’s worse than what they thought in the beginning. I mean, it happens a lot and it’s probably because at first, they can’t really get in there and get to the real bottom of it and start taking it apart.

Duggan: Now, who is funding this? Is it being 100% funded by the State? Is it a matching grant?

Baddour: I think it’s a matching [grant]. I have to find out for sure, it’s a good question. I actually asked that question today. A lot of the bridge repairs are 80-20, 80% Federal reimbursement, 20% State. So, it’s either 80-20 or its 100% State.
Paul Murano: Number one, how dangerous was that bridge before you started working on it? Number two, if you can only really find out the rot and decay of bridges after you start working on them, what might they say about the condition and future costs of many other bridges?

Baddour: No, you can determine whether or not a bridge is structurally safe. Those are determinations engineers can assess. When you get under a bridge and you start tearing it apart, you come across different problems.

Paul: Then you can see how bad it really was?

Baddour: Yes, but at the same time, you know whether or not a bridge is safe, even if it needs to be repaired. So, Mass DOT, and I’ve dealt a lot with them for six years, their number one priority is always safety. If they determine a bridge is unsafe, they will shut it down. They will have no qualms about doing that, safety is number one.

Paul: So you are pretty confident that there aren’t any dangerous bridges right now?

Baddour: After the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota, a couple of years ago, Governor Romney, at the time, mandated an assessment of every bridge in the Commonwealth. They went through and determined which bridges were, what they called, structurally efficient, those that needed to be repaired. And they determined that, at the time, no bridge was in that sort of ready to collapse stage, where they need to immediately shut it down. Those bridges that needed repairs right away, they did that and, like in Newburyport for example, we have accelerated bridge programs which allowed for bridges in the Commonwealth to be repaired quicker than historically had been done. We had a transportation reform bill, which allowed Mass DOT to implement new technology, new ways to take the best practices of other States and repair bridges quicker with new technologies. So, we are doing that, but the problem was for the past 20 years every penny that came in went to the Big Dig. As a result, bridges across the Commonwealth were neglected. Now we are living with the decisions that were made 15-20 years ago and we are in a catch-up stage. We are trying to do that, we are catching up, repairing bridges outside the Commonwealth. That is, I think, the first time in probably 50 years. We have the two chairs in transportation, Joe Wagner from Chicopee and me, from Methuen, in Merrimack Valley, the first time the chairs weren’t from Boston. So, we took a different approach to looking at the way the transportation problems were viewed.