By Shawn Regan
---- — It’s a tale of two bridges — and the latest chapter is almost complete.
These city spans being worked on by the state are in the final stages and will be open to traffic soon:
The Groveland Bridge that crosses the Merrimack River and connects Haverhill to Groveland
The Rocks Village Bridge, an historic span which is used by residents of Haverhill, West Newbury, Merrimac and several southern New Hampshire towns.
The new, $50 million Groveland Bridge is scheduled to open early next year, according to state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury. Mirra said he receives regular updates on both bridge projects from state transportation officials.
Mirra, who represents two voting precincts in Haverhill, noted what anyone who has seen the Groveland Bridge recently has no doubt noticed — that “it looks great and appears to be just about done.”
The new span will replace the old one, which has remained open during construction of the new bridge. The old one will be dismantled and hauled away by the contractor, Mirra said.
“It looks like it’s just about ready,” Mirra said, adding the project is 86 percent complete. “But they are still working on the approaches leading up the bridge on both sides, and they are doing some electrical work.”
The Rocks Village Bridge is even closer to completion. State officials plan to reopen the span Sept. 29, Mirra said.
That bridge, which is being rehabilitated for a little more than $13 million, was originally expected to reopen next month. The delay is related to unexpected problems with the “track chair” mechanics that open the span for boats to pass underneath. The track chair is essentially a cast iron ring upon which sits a variety of equipment and which is designed to support the swing span, which is the bridge’s removable center section.
Mirra said the city’s Historical Commission wanted to install a old-fashioned manual-crank, similar to the original, rather than an electrical crank.
He said workers have removed tons of asphalt and concrete from the bed of the bridge and replaced it with modern composite material which is much lighter.
The month-long delay means vehicles that would normally use the bridge, including school buses, must continue using alternate routes until late September. As a consequence, students riding buses to nearby Whittier Regional High will face longer rides than usual during the first month of school.
The historic bridge, built in 1883 and rebuilt in 1914, was closed to traffic on June 18 of last year, forcing drivers who used the 812-foot span to find alternate routes.
According to state transportation officials, the Rocks Village Bridge contains the oldest movable span among all bridges presently under MassHighway control. It is located next to the Rocks Village National Register Historic District, on a site which has been utilized as a major Merrimack River crossing since the early 18th century. To date, only 44 movable bridges have been identified in the MassHighway database. The Rocks Village Bridge, the oldest of them all, is still operated by hand.
As one of the earliest riveted metal trusses yet identified in the MassHighway inventory, the Rocks Village Bridge is also the earliest known surviving work of the Boston Bridge Works, a Massachusetts bridge building firm active from the 1870s through the 1930s.
When you can start crossing bridges
Sept. 29: Rocks Village Bridge repairs to be complete
Early next year: The new Groveland Bridge (officials have no specific date)