This 2003 photo shows the Charles Braga Bridge (I-195) looking west from Fall River Heritage State Park. The World War II battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59) shown here in this photo has made Fall River its home since 1965, the year the Braga Bridge was completed. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
WHERE THE TAUNTON RIVER MEETS NARRAGANSETT BAY: Early planning for what was then known as the "Somerset-Fall River Bridge" began in the 1950's when it was part of a Providence spur to the proposed Cape Cod Expressway, a 260-mile-long toll road connecting New York City with Cape Cod. The securing of Interstate funding for what was initially designated I-95E - which was re-designated I-195 in 1959 - brought the hope of relieving congestion on the nearby Brightman Street Bridge (US 6) closer to reality.
It was necessary for engineers to design a high-level bridge to carry I-195 across the busy Taunton River, where many tall vessels served industrial areas and power plants along the Fall River and Somerset sides of the river. Although the Brightman Street Bridge was a double-leaf bascule drawbridge that provided adequate vertical clearance, the old span, which was completed in 1908, had only 98 feet of horizontal clearance.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) began construction of the Charles Braga Bridge toward the end of 1960 with the boring of test pilings in the Taunton River. The 27 concrete piers that make up the bridge's substructure were completed in October 1962, and work soon began on the steel superstructure and approaches.
The main bridge over the navigation channel close to the Fall River shoreline is a three-span continuous cantilever-truss (Warren truss) design. The main span measures 840 feet from pier-to-pier and is flanked by two side spans measuring 382 feet in length. At its highest point above the Taunton River, the bridge provides 135 feet of vertical clearance. There are 24 continuous plate-girder approach spans of varying width from 145 feet to 200 feet.
The concrete for the 84-foot-wide roadway was cast in place. The roadway accommodates six 12-foot-lanes (three in each direction), two 4-foot-wide right shoulders, and a four-foot-wide median barrier. There are no pedestrian walkways on the bridge.
The $22 million Braga Bridge was opened to traffic in 1965. At 5,780 feet from abutment to abutment, the span was the third longest in New England after the Tobin Bridge in Boston and the Jamestown Bridge in Rhode Island; the opening of the Newport (Pell) Bridge in 1969 pushed the Braga Bridge into fourth place.
When the bridge opened, it was dedicated in honor of Charles Braga, Jr., the son of a Fall River mill worker who was killed aboard the USS Pennsylvania during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
YESTERDAY AND TODAY… LEFT: This 1962 photo shows the completed substructure of the Charles Braga Bridge looking east toward Fall River. Right-of-way demolition along the path of I-195 continues through Fall River in the area of City Hall. (Photo by Massachusetts Department of Public Works.) RIGHT: This 2003 photo shows the eastbound lanes of the Charles Braga Bridge (I-195) at mid-span. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
MAINTAINING THE BRAGA BRIDGE: As the Braga Bridge approached a quarter-century of service in 1989, the MassDPW undertook a comprehensive two-year rehabilitation of the span and approaches. The project included the replacement of the existing deck with a new lightweight deck overlaid with bituminous concrete. Construction crews repaired and repainted structural steel along the length of the mile-long span, a new concrete ("Jersey") barrier was built in the center median, and "suicide fences" were built along the length of the span.
In 2003, the Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD) began a three-year, $9 million rehabilitation of the Braga Bridge. The scope of the work was similar to that of the 1989-1990 project, but the new top concrete layer of roadway was given a latex additive that resists water seepage and thus reduces cracking. Originally scheduled for completion in 2005, the end of the project was re-scheduled for 2006 because of delays associated with the nearby Government Center project along I-195 in Fall River.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), which assumed the operations of the MHD in 2009, the Braga Bridge carries approximately 80,000 vehicles per day (AADT). This volume can easily exceed 100,000 vehicles per day during summer weekends because of the bridge's role in connecting Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York traffic bound for Cape Cod, as well as serving local traffic.
This 2002 photo shows the Charles Braga Bridge (I-195) looking north from the Fall River shoreline. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
Type of bridge: Construction started: Opened to traffic: Length of main cantilever span: Length of side cantilever spans: Total length of bridge and approaches: Width of bridge: Width of roadway: Number of traffic lanes: Height of towers above mean high water: Clearance at center above mean high water: Cost of original structure:
SOURCES: "New England Road Project Backed," The New York Times (10/29/1953); "New England South Shore Highway," Interstate Study Committee (1953); "Traffic and Highway Study for East Providence, Barrington, Warren and Bristol, Rhode Island," Wilbur Smith and Associates (1955); "A Report of Progress," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1962); "The Massachusetts Highway Story (1949-1969)," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1969); "Bridge Rehab Due" by Mac Daniel, The Boston Globe (2/17/2002); "Braga Bridge Project Update" by Daniel Barbarisi, The Providence Journal (5/09/2003); "Bridge Work Stalls Commuters" by Bridget Botelho, Providence Business News (4/20/2004); "No Relief for I-195 Commuters" by Steve Urbon, The Standard-Times (6/06/2004); "Future Foggy for Braga" by Gregg M. Miliote, The Herald-News (7/07/2005); Massachusetts Highway Department; Alexander Svirsky.
I-195 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.