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Haverhill Residents Give Wish List to MassDOT for Design of New Basiliere Bridge

Mon March 20, 2023 - Northeast Edition
97.9 FM WHAV & MassDOT


First built in 1925, the Basiliere Bridge is two years away from its 100th birthday. Since 1972, it has carried the name of Marine Private First Class Ralph Basiliere, who died in action in Vietnam in May 1966, becoming Haverhill's first casualty of the war. (Photo courtesy of MassDot)
First built in 1925, the Basiliere Bridge is two years away from its 100th birthday. Since 1972, it has carried the name of Marine Private First Class Ralph Basiliere, who died in action in Vietnam in May 1966, becoming Haverhill's first casualty of the war. (Photo courtesy of MassDot)

Keeping street and boat traffic moving, installing decorative lighting, and the possible salvage of one tower were among the key issues raised during a recent public hearing in Haverhill, Mass., over plans to replace the PFC. Ralph T. Basiliere Bridge over the Merrimack River.

A Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) meeting March 9 was called to gather public feedback before designing the estimated $150 million replacement bridge — between downtown Haverhill and Bradford — scheduled to be complete in 2027, reported WHAV, Haverhill's public radio station, on March 13.

"We're hoping the new structure will be an homage to the existing structure," Eamon Kernan, MassDOT's project manager, told those present at the town meeting. "It is not going to match it. It is going to be a modern bridge. It is going to be a new bridge, but we don't want to completely clean the slate and put in a highway bridge."

WHAV noted that Nathanial Cabral-Curtis, who is overseeing public involvement for Haverhill, said while it was clear when studies began in 2018 the existing deck and arches of the bridge could not be saved, there was at least hope the foundation could be reused to support new piers.

"[But] we realized, no, we can't save any part of it," he explained, adding that even the foundation of the 1925-era bridge is not capable of holding the new structure.

Salvaging an existing tower for placement on the center of a new Basiliere Bridge also is considered unlikely since there will be fewer piers to support symmetrical placement. Kernan said, however, it is possible one of the towers could be saved and placed near the Bradford Rail Trail.

"If we can take one of these towers off and move it, maybe over to the [trail] or somewhere else in the general area so that it is not lost completely, [we could keep the history part of it," he explained.

There was consensus among folks in attendance at the public meeting, including Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini, that decorative lighting be placed above the bridge and, if possible, over the rail trail.

Project architect Etty Padmodipoetro agreed, but with a reservation.

"We will be respecting the dark sky, so we want to make sure it is well lit [to] enhance the bridge, but not [to become] light pollution," she explained.

Fiorentini added, "This is a beautiful bridge. We want it to remain beautiful. It would be even more beautiful if it were lit. We're all sorry the towers can't remain where they are."

First built in 1925, the Basiliere Bridge is two years away from its 100th birthday. Since 1972, it has carried the name of Marine Private First Class Ralph Basiliere, who died in action in Vietnam in May 1966, becoming Haverhill's first casualty of the war.

Century-Old Span Ripe for Replacement

Though safe, the Basiliere Bridge has reached the end of its lifespan, according to MassDOT.

The span is currently 68-ft.-wide, and engineers hope to complete a 75-ft.-wide structure which would use a small amount of land on the Water Street side of the right-of-way.

Preliminary concepts, which would show possible travel lanes, sidewalks and a bicycle path, could be ready by the end of March, but the final design is not expected until the middle of this summer, WHAV noted.

During construction, MassDOT officials said, one lane of traffic will be maintained in each direction for the 30,000 vehicles that use the bridge each day. Traffic patterns north to Bailey and Ginty Boulevards and south to Middlesex Street will likely be reconfigured. One sidewalk also is expected to remain available.

Kernan did not sugarcoat the expected result.

"It is going to be a nightmare," he admitted. "It is [also] going to be a nightmare for design, but ultimately be dedicated to coming up with the best solution."

Local Officials, Residents All Provided Input On Effort

Haverhill City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett called for the state to double the number of travel lanes during the three years of construction.

"I think it is important to maintain two lanes in both directions — north and south — because otherwise you'll have gridlock all the way to Ward Hill," she said.

Officials all but ruled out a temporary bridge, pushed by Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, to mitigate traffic problems. His suggestion — what he described as similar to bridges built by the military during World War II — was to build a span between the former Friends Landing property on Water Street to a former lumberyard on the Bradford side of the Merrimack.

But Kernan said a temporary bridge would cost between $74 million to $100 million along with the added expense of having to twice relocate utilities.

Bevilacqua also suggested placing a covering over sidewalks not only to shelter pedestrians, but as a decorative element.

Crescent Yacht Club Commodore Rick LeBlanc did not want the bridge's designers to forget about the safety of boaters.

"The bridge, as it is now, is dangerous," he told the gathering. "I don't know if there is any way there could be netting put under [the structure]. If you've ever gone under that bridge on a boat, you [sometimes] see chunks of cement fall."

Haverhill City Council President Timothy J. Jordan praised the MassDOT proposal for the included bicycle paths. In addition, city resident Larry Olasky suggested the addition of rail trail lighting, while Community Development Director Andrew K. Herlihy asked for the addition of "scenic overlooks" to allow pedestrians to view the Merrimack River.




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