Rock Village Bridge work halted | Local News |

2022-09-12 00:28:37 By : Mr. oscar jia

Showers early, then cloudy overnight. Low 63F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 40%..

Showers early, then cloudy overnight. Low 63F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 40%.

WEST NEWBURY — Repairs to the Rocks Village Bridge were placed on hold earlier this month while the state’s historical board conducts a review of the planned work –a legal requirement of which the Massachusetts Department of Transportation says it was unaware.

In a memo to the town dated Aug. 11, Daniel Fielding of MassDOT reported that his department had “recently become aware of the need to file a project notification form with the Massachusetts Historical Commission for the permanent repair work and that the emergency repair work could not continue concurrently with their review.”

Since then, MassDOT submitted the form and requested “an expedited review, citing the regional traffic impacts, as well as those related to the pending resumption of school activities,” Fielding wrote.

That process, according to officials, could take up to 30 days.

The Rocks Village Historic District Commission also received a form to facilitate consultation with the MHC.

“The district will remain in contact with our staff in Boston involved in the MHC filing/review to ensure that the delays to the completion of the work are minimized to the maximum extent possible,” Fielding’s memo indicated.

Town Manager Angus Jennings’ frustration was apparent as he informed the Select Board about the delay.

“‘MassDOT recently became aware…’ of state regs that have been on the books for decades. You can’t make this stuff up,” Jennings wrote in a memo to town leaders dated Aug.11, “…it sounds like (MassDOT) will do what it can to ‘hasten’ the process. But regardless, there is a work stoppage of some duration, and that’s not what anyone needs.”

At a Select Board meeting on Monday, Chairperson David Archibald thanked RVHDC for holding an emergency meeting in advance of its regularly scheduled meeting in September. He hoped this action might speed things up.

Colleague Rick Parker said a discussion of protective measures to prevent overheight trucks off the bridge was still needed. He felt that West Newbury and Haverhill –the two communities connected by the historic bridge –should be at the table for those talks. It shouldn’t be “ just something handed down from DOT,” he insisted.

Archibald said adding additional precautions can come, but re-opening the bridge was the priority.

Local city and town leaders felt imposing a large truck restriction on the bridge was necessary.

But Jacquelyn Goddard of MassDOT indicated this week that MassDOT won’t support a heavy commercial vehicle exclusion. The bridge provides local and regional connectivity and is one of only three crossings over the Merrimack River in the area.

A $14.1 million rehabilitation project in 2013 was designed for all types of traffic and vehicles, Goddard stressed, noting “If trucks were not allowed to cross at this location, they would be required to travel over four miles south to the Bates Bridge in Groveland/Haverhill or over six miles north to the Chain Bridge/Hines Bridge in Amesbury/Newburyport.”

State law requires that these neighboring communities give permission for the additional truck traffic within their borders. Per MassDOT’s HCVE policy a minimum truck volume is usually in the 5-8% range of the average daily traffic.

“A previous study showed the percentage of heavy commercial vehicles that use the bridge does not meet this threshold,” Goddard stated.

MassDOT instead favors regional and local signage, and road pavement markings approaching the bridge. Replace warning signage at each entrance to the bridge with more visible, horizontal clearance signs; and install warning chains to alert drivers if their vehicle makes contact, stated Goddard, adding that more robust signage at other local locations– including Route 113, Interstate 495, and Interstate 95 –are needed.

For the third time in the past four years, the bridge was closed when a too tall truck struck the bridge in mid-March causing significant damage to sections on both sides of the truss and the lateral bracing connecting the two sides.

The repeated closures are causing extreme headaches and economic stress for many commuters, students and teachers in the Pentucket Regional School District and Whittier Vocational Technical High School, and businesses on either side of the bridge, according to town officials.

Phase 1 of the multi phased repair project –a temporary fix to allow the bridge’s swing span to open for marine traffic– was completed May 27. In July, temporary support for the swing span on the bridge fender system using timber blocking and jacks was in place.

Fielding estimated construction and delivery of the new steel components will take approximately four weeks. Modifications to the environmental permitting process, simultaneous removal of the damaged components and arrival of their replacements; and extended work shifts should allow the bridge to be safely restored as quickly as possible, he noted.

Once known as the Merrimack Bridge, the Rocks Village Bridge dates back to 1794.

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