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The Fairhaven/New Bedford Bridge – Historic or Problematic?

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by Michael Silvia

Each super hero has an arch-nemesis that spoils their day; Batman has the joker, Superman has Lex Luther and Fairhaven and New Bedford citizens have the Fairhaven/New Bedford bridge. There isn’t a driver from either town that hasn’t been affected by the inconsistent bridge closings.  One would think that the bridge closes randomly to foot and vehicle traffic because  it is always closed at inopportune times and out of schedule.  But the fact is there is an official schedule and rules provided by the city of New Bedford.

Here is the official bridge schedule:

  • Daily, from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM, the bridge opens (or closes to vehicle/foot traffic) at the top of each hour: 6 AM, 7 AM, 8 AM, 9 AM and 10 AM.
  • Then daily from 11:15 AM to 6:15 PM, the bridge opens 15 minutes past each hour: 11:15 AM, 12:15 PM, 1:15 PM, 2:15 PM, 3:15 PM, 4:15 PM, 5:15 PM and 6:15 PM.
  • After 6:15 PM, the bridge will open on-demand from marine traffic by calling the bridge keeper’s office on marine channel 13.
New Bedford/Fairhaven Bridge
New Bedford/Fairhaven Bridge open to vehicle and foot traffic

Based on this schedule, I generally plan my Fairhaven/New Bedford bridge crossing at the second half of any hour.  I do this because if the bridge closes on the hour or 15-minutes past the hour throughout the day (per the official schedule), I should never get caught at the bridge.  The fact is even with a carefully thought out plan, I still get caught at the bridge at least three times a week! This is obviously due to the the bridge operators running things on their schedule vice the city’s posted schedule. Dozens, if not hundreds, of citizens are inconvenienced each day thanks to a few men.  Apparently, a fishing boat that can’t plan their return trip on schedule is allowed to block traffic anytime they wish.  If an ambulance, the police or anyone else with an emergency plans their bridge crossing based on the official schedule, they may be seriously effected by the rogue bridge operators. Since the fastest way to St. Luke’s hospital from Fairhaven is to cross the bridge, this is a good possibility.

The official rule states, “the schedule and duration of openings will vary depending on weather conditions, harbor congestion and vessel size.  By law, marine traffic has priority over vehicular traffic.”  This is generally understandable, but how many times has the bridge been opened outside of the schedule to allow a single boat through? More often than not by my count!

Fairhaven/New Bedford Bridge
Fairhaven/New Bedford Bridge in the late 1800s

The bridge does have significant historic value; it is one of the oldest “Swing Bridges” in America still in operation.  It is a beautiful bridge that accentuates both the town of Fairhaven and New Bedford.  Many local historians will tell you that it is worth the 15-minute inconvenience a few times a week to have such a beautiful, piece of history that adds charm to the area.  That is typically from the older generations that doesn’t drive much anymore or have way too much time on their hands.

There is a simple solution to keep New Bedford an Fairhaven drivers and bridge-lovers happy; stick to the official schedule and only deviate from the schedule when there is a real need.  Don’t inconvenience hundreds drivers simply because a fishing boat is in port early.  Drivers are not frustrated by the bridge because it closes for 15 minutes each hour; they are frustrated because the bridge operators can’t maintain a simple schedule and inconvenience us  way too often.  In 2009, a motorcyclist died attempting to cross the Fairhaven/New Bedford bridge while it was opening to boat traffic. Was he simply in a rush? Or was this the 100th time he’d been stuck at the bridge out of schedule?

About Michael Silvia

Served 20 years in the United States Air Force. Owner of New Bedford Guide.

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12 comments

  1. …I’m not sure if this bridge is historic, but the business right down the way with no windows is..

  2. Again with this same old article Michael??! Since this article was published the bridge has maintained the official schedule. You write such beautiful stories. Can we please put this one to rest? Or can you change or update it? While it is a challenge to go over, if you know the schedule and recognize that from open to close it takes at least 15 minutes you can easily change YOUR schedule and not get stuck in traffic.

    • Lauren, myself and dozens of my friends would differ with you. I’ve been caught on the bridge outside of the official schedule plenty of times in 2012. Technically, they do NOT have to follow the schedule as I wrote in the article. Besides the construction, little has changed since I wrote this article.

      This article is old, but relevant today. Some people love the bridge, some hate it and many are indifferent. It makes for a good discussion topic. Posting it on Facebook three times in two and a half years isn’t a bad thing. When I first posted this article he had like 300 Facebook fans. Today we have nearly 10,000. I re-post it because so many have never read the article. It’s not targeted to people that have not read the article, but the thousands that have not.

  3. This story is from August 2010, 2 1/2 years ago. Write a new one please. The bridge is not the same anymore.

  4. I operate a fuel barge in New Bedford Harbor. The barge I operate has the ability to go underneath the bridge on the west side of the harbor by Crystal Ice. The construction that has been taking place for almost 16 months now, no longer gives my barge that ability except for at extreme low tide below the main bridge. I therefore usually have to go thru the bridge at the allowed openings upwards of 20 times a week. The bridge certainly is run on the schedule that is made public. There may be times when it is a minute or two difference but nothing more. Sometimes it is 10 minutes later due to them holding the bridge open to vehicle traffic for an ambulance or police or fire truck. They do not open it at their own will. I am in the harbor for 50 hours a week for the last 7 years. You are under a false impression for whatever reason. Other instances in which the bridge is open off schedule would be when the big ships use to have to go thru it. Any ship that draws more than 20 feet of water in new bedford harbor must not be made to sit and float per order of the coast guard and army corp of engineers. I could go on in educating you about the bridge operations. Those guys are certainly on schedule tho.

    • Shawn, if you read my article, it clearly points to a bridge schedule. So, there is no disputing that there is a schedule that they follow. My point is that there go off schedule and that is a fact. Just off the top of your head you gave several instances why the bridge would open outside of the schedule. I’m sure we could come up with many other reasons. I’ve been caught on the bridge several times a month outside the schedule. I know several people that were suppose to meet me, but had to call/text that they would be late because of the bridge opened outside of schedule. So, no one will convince me that the bridge has never operated outside of the schedule for the past 2.5 years. Finally, this article is not advocating getting rid of the bridge. It asks the simple question, is it historic and problematic? Obviously, you and Laurie think it’s historic. As far as education, did you know this is the fifth bridge in that location? Or do you remember when they took it away for a year and closed off that location to vehicle traffic for the entire year? How many businesses went out of business because of it? So clearly, it is problematic for many!

    • Thanks Shawn I’m an operator and appreciate you educating the uneducated…… Yup we just open when we feel like it…what a ridiculous statement…the schedule is mandated by the Coast Guard….I think Michael has a problem with bridge operators.This isn’t the first article he’s written bashing bridge operators

  5. I completely understand both sides of this story. The bridge does in fact open off schedule. When it happens, please report it to the Commonwealth of Mass DOT. The bridge tenders do not have that kind of discretion. If they know that they will be reported they won’t do it. However, let’s remember that this is a working waterfront. Boats and barges have to travel back and forth. It is a slight inconvenience to the road traffic. The waterfront represents a lot of jobs and drives the economy of New Bedford. The Coast Guard controls the bridge schedule and it has been the same for years. You can’t save any time by driving around. So relax and enjoy the view!

  6. James B Sargent

    The bridge was said it may not be historic . Well it was called one of the wonders of the world. You look at the piece that turns. That is very heavy but it use to open and close in 7 min. Funny the state when it was building did not want to put new hydraulic lifters. They were old and at the time close out to save money.

    In 1938 they thought the bridge was going to come down during the hurricane but its still standing. Lots of other things came down like the amusement park on Rodney French Blvd did. The architectural designer son stood on the bridge so he could tell his father if anything happened to it.

    The gear was large and able to turn this span. It was made here in Mass. The first thing to let go on the bridge was the hydraulic lifters. They needed new ones because putting close out your not getting parts. They hired a company out of state to redo the bridge a number of years ago.

    They said there was no one in the state capable of doing the job. After putting it back together the new gear they made it cracked. Proves they knew what they were doing.. On top of that now with the new hydraulic lifters it takes 15 min. to open and close.

    The architectural designer of the bridge knew what he was doing . Saw the blueprints it goes step by step why he did everything. And no he didn’t come out of the state to build it . He was born in South Shore outside Boston. When he built the bridge he met his wife here and moved to Natick Mass.

    When he died he was buried at Rural Cemetery . When the bridge was finished the state put a brass commemorative plaque on the New Bedford side. With his name as well as others on the job.

    But when they connected the bridge to the high way it was left unhooked. In New Bedford if its not tried down its stolen.
    But 7 min. wasn’t bad 15 is complain to the state let people in this state who knows what they doing do the job.

    Wonder if the state or city has a copy of the blueprints my family does. Maybe they should of looked at those blueprints then maybe it would open and close in 7 min. It could be a little faster if they waited a bit longer to open the bridge not when the boat is coming in the dike to open it.

  7. Think that relic of a bridge has outlived its usefulness. There are so many more boats now, and the traffic backup is outrageous when it is open. If you get ‘caught’ when it is open, it takes forever to close and let the traffic pass. I wonder why they have never considered replacing it with a drawbridge, or a bridge that actually takes LESS TIME to open and close. The ‘bridge show’, its pokey opening and closing, is exasperating! Sometime I even think…’maybe dynamite!’
    haha

  8. I hate this bridge!!!!! takes forever and me along with a number of other cars pull a u turn to avoid this thing! its awful

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