Installing the Footbridge: Like Threading a Needle

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Fri, 09/14/2007 - 15:15

Installing the Footbridge: Like Threading a Needle

"Building bridges" has a dramatic symbolism. But there is also drama in building a bridge. And sometimes drama comes to us. A photographer has no choice but to document the event.

For about three years, the residents of a quiet neighborhood in Peabody have been divided by an unused railroad cut. The area was once a border for an industrial zone, part of Peabody's tannery industry, thus the railroad spur. And the toxic waste that forced a bridge redesign. Uphill is a working dairy farm. A busy highway wraps around the neighborhood. Children from both sides of the track who used to play together have been separated by almost a mile's walk along a road with heavy trafic. The walk to school has also been lengthened. People who walk their dogs have been limited to their own side of the tracks.

An old footbridge which used to connect people had to come down, and toxic waste from a long-gone factory stood in the way of reconstruction. For two years the neighborhood was stirred by signs of progress: "dig safe" markings on the street; teams of surveyors; a portable toilet which only stayed for two days; heavy machinery which sat for weeks unused; holes that were dug and concrete that was poured. The neighbors were skeptics: "It will never be built." "Not before the frost."

Then, in one day, four steel bridge sections appeared and were joined on the far side. But how could the workers bridge the gap? The many power and communication wires would block the swing of a crane. A mistake and half of Peabody might be without power; worse, we might be without cable TV! We watched as the workers swarmed over the bridge to complete the assembly and as the crane operators smoothly pulled the bridge through and settled it on the concrete base. The workers spoke Spanish and English, and used cell phones and hand signals, but much of the work was like a well-rehearsed ballet performance, with everyone knowing their own jobs.

And the symbolism? The bridge is America. Could the bridge have been built without the Spanish immigrants? The neighborhood on this side of the bridge comprises renters and householders of a variety of ethnicities. People get along for the most part. The adult men seem to know everything about all their neighbors; yes, it was mostly the men that stood around and gossiped while watching the bridge installation. I don't know but I suspect that the people on the other side of the bridge are similar. The big change that the neighbors anticipate is that a lot more kids will appear at their homes for Halloween. Whatever its faults, America is not a bad place to live in. Except perhaps for the toxic waste that wasn't cleaned up. Just don't eat the vegetables from your backyard garden!

Four ten-thousand pound steel sections were built in Ohio and assembled on site. The bridge spans an unused railroad spur to connect Sabino Farm Road and N Central Street. The work was by Ricci Construction and Astro Crane for Mass Highway.

Installing the Footbridge: Like Threading a Needle
Sliding Through a Maze of Wires, A Bridge to Connect a Neighborhood