By Richard Gaines
---- — The final phase of work on the $26 million reconstruction and modernization of the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge — a project that began in 2008, was revived last week into a sixth year, and is now continuing — is projected to continue until completion in the fall.
A crane on the outbound side of the four-lane bridge for Route 128 over the Annisquam River has been in place for about a week, once again reducing the bridge to one-lane travel coming onto Cape Ann.
The bridge, the longest and highest span on Route 128’s 57-mile arc around Greater Boston, was completed at the middle of the 20th century and was ready for use two years ahead of Route 128, which reached it in 1952.
At the time, the four doors at the towers were decorated with art work that could be seen by pedestrians who were allowed across the span until the Interstate Highway System barred the dangerous action. Today, more than 40,000 vehicles a day in summer whiz past scenes of Gloucester and its fishing tradition.
Michael Verseckes, MassHighway spokesman, said Tuesday work will be discontinued and the lane restriction eliminated for the Memorial Day weekend, which falls May 25-27. Work will resume with the start of business on Tuesday, May 28, the day after the holiday, he said.
“What you’re seeing out there is the remobilization of the painting of the bridge,” Verseckes said. “There will be daily lane closures during off-peak hours for the setup of the containment areas. The painting is focusing on the upper deck of the main span of the bridge.
“We expect this to last through the summer and into the fall,” he said, adding that “this is the last area of the bridge that needs to be painted.”
“In addition to the painting, there are also some repairs to the surface of the sidewalks on the bridge, and to the bridge expansion joints, he said.
“The crane you had noticed out there,” Verseckes said, “was so the contractor could remove what is known as the ‘safe span’ which was on the main arch of the bridge, below the deck/roadway surface. The crane was lowering the panels that made up the safe span off from the arch so they could be removed as they are no longer needed for this phase of the job.”
The intermittent nature of the work so far this spring had to do with weather, and conditions that have at times made work unsafe. The last previous and only significant work on the bridge was to the decks in 1991.
Built in little more than nine months in 1950 at a cost less than MassHighway is spending on its makeover, the bridge was named in honor of A. Piatt Andrew, the first Gloucester resident to serve in Congress; he served for 16 years beginning in 1921, and was a co-founder of the American Field Service, the private organization that in 1914 organized the volunteer ambulance corps of Americans who wanted a role in the Great War in the years before the U.S. became a belligerent.
Intended as a link in the decades-long effort to complete what then was called the “circumferential” highway around Boston, the bridge also pulled Gloucester out of a placid, simple past and into the modern world, connecting it to the fast-growing interstate highway system.
“It was the biggest single thing that’s happened in (Gloucester’s) history,” the late historian Joseph Garland wrote.
Before the big bridge came, the city was reachable by road only by the coastal route through Salem, Beverly and Manchester on Route 127 again to the Cut.
The bridge is the only one in the Route 128 system eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic structures.
Although they are little known, a series of bas relief images of the city executed in bronze on the doors of the four granite stanchions are by sculptor John Francis Paramino.
Paramino’s work includes a bust of President John Adams in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx, N.Y.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.