The Herald News, Thursday, December 15, 2016 – Page B2
By Mike Moran
Massive transportation improvement projects offer little satisfaction to those who are short on patience. The way these folks see it, there’s just too much time spent between the promise and the payoff. But while a number of local projects could accurately be described as frustrating endurance tests, the progress that’s been made along Fall River’s waterfront is undeniable.
I mention this because with the upgrade of the Braga Bridge-Route 79 interchange essentially complete, it’s now time to look to the next stretch of the highway running parallel to the Taunton River and consider its full potential. And we’ve now had our first look at the conceptual drawings of the next construction phase of this important city artery, depicting its transformation into a more user-friendly, grade-level boulevard. I believe this could be great for our region.
Taking such an optimistic position carries the risk that I’ll be accused of wearing glasses with rosy red lenses. Believe me, I’m well aware that when it comes to major projects, the price tag is always steep and the inevitable construction delays and inconvenience to the traveling public aren’t easily overlooked. Like you, I’ve lived through the slow deterioration of the rusty old “spaghetti ramps” and the even slower demolition and reconstruction of what has ultimately become a much improved configuration.
Let’s face it, we all insist that problems be solved instantly and that the things that are wrong be quickly righted. We want it, and we want it now. At the same time, we beg for needed transportation improvements and then grouse loudly when construction causes inconvenience. You gotta love human nature.
Major road and bridge projects don’t happen overnight. They involve a tedious process that first requires consensus that an improvement is needed and affordable. Then studies are conducted, hearings are held, the project is designed and constructed. Even on the fastest of tracks, environmental issues must be addressed, complicated survey calculations made, land takings and other legal obstacles mitigated. And all that happens before a shovel hits the ground.
The long, protracted repair project on the Braga Bridge has been particularly frustrating, not only because of the endless lane restrictions, but because the improvements, taking place primarily underneath the roadway, weren’t visible to those of us who regularly travel the bridge. We’re more likely to tolerate big projects when we see their progress with our own eyes.
To be sure, all the major jobs take a long time to complete. And they should. I don’t think any of us would want hastily conceived projects to be built on a whim, without firm adherence to the accepted design standards and the assurances of safety and efficiency that come with them.
An acquaintance of mine would regularly refer to the planned Exit 8B interchange of Route 24 and Innovation Way, before it was constructed, as “the ramp.” How long does it take, he would ask while floating along in blissful cluelessness, to build a ramp? Lost on him was the fact that “the ramp” included the design and construction of the required on- and off-ramps as well as a new bridge above Route 24 to carry traffic to and from Innovation Way and Assonet’s South Main Street.
So count me among those who are grateful for and welcome the additional Route 79 improvements. If they result in Davol Street once again becoming an actual street, rather than a divided, partially elevated highway with limited access, we’ll all benefit.
The proposed upgrade is likely to trigger the development of another location that has received a commitment of state dollars – the long-dormant city pier. That, combined with what’s already been accomplished at The Cove Restaurant, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Gold Star Families Memorial, Commonwealth Landing, Battleship Cove, and Heritage park, has incrementally brought the city’s waterfront out of hibernation.
The keepers of the federal and state pocketbooks are investing considerably in Fall River, and we should all recognize that as extremely welcome news.