Private Bridges in Lowell

Rough draft


As I’m sure you well know, Lowell has an unusual and pressing infrastructure problem: eight bridges serve main toroughfares through the city but are in poor condition and are privately owned. Furthermore, the canals they cross are privately owned and operated for private profit.

The private owner has no economic incentive to maintain the bridges and some are in severe disrepair. The city, however,needs the bridges to be in an acceptable condition so as not to disrupt transportation and create safety hazards for emergency responses.

What the optimal next step should be is difficult to determine:

  1. Should the city take ownership of the bridges and repair them? Since the city needs them to ensure traffic flow this may be an option; but it creates an unfortunate circumstance of publicizing the costs of the canals while keeping the profits private. It also sets a bad precedent for future maintenance issues regarding private canals and railroads and other rights of way.
  2. Should the bridges be shut down? If they were small bridges to unused destinations this could be an option; however the bridges in question house main city thoroughfares.

We would like to request is to investigate whether the legislature could create a potential third alternative: a way to enforce maintenance of infrastructure that crosses canals or rail roads used for private profit.

For example, in an easement a owner can not interfere with the easement holder’s use and enjoyment of the easement including, for example, blocking access. Could the private canals be viewed as blocking public access to parts of the city? As such, can the canal owner be compelled to maintain that access including the heaviest emergency vehicles or else face a fine?

We would like to request that any new law or interpretation of existing law should have three goals:

  1. The city should have the right to cross the canals including the heaviest emergency vehicles. For example, it should be unacceptable for a private company to shut down a bridge and block free movement across the city.
  2. As long as the canals are used for private profit the privately owned means to cross them should be maintained with private funds.
  3. Filling in the canals and destroying Lowell’s historic landmarks should not be an option.

TODO: what else?

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