The historic bridge that connects West Newbury to Haverhill in northeastern Massachusetts was significantly damaged March 17 when a large truck tried to cross the bridge. (Commons.wikimedia photo)
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and its contractor are devising ways to speed up repairs to the Rocks Village Bridge over the Merrimack River, according to a July 18 report in the Daily News of Newburyport.
The historic bridge that connects West Newbury to Haverhill in northeastern Massachusetts was significantly damaged March 17 when a large truck tried to cross the bridge.
The impact occurred midway across the bridge within a section that swings open for marine traffic. Its closure for repairs caused major headaches and frustration for commuters, area homeowners, businesses, and the Pentucket and Whittier Vocational schools, the Daily News reported.
The report by Dan Fielding of MassDOT confirms that the first phase of the bridge fix, which involved adding structural elements to replace damaged parts, was substantially completed with the swing span safely swung open May 27.
He added that the contractor used timber blocking and jacks to temporarily support the swing span's bridge fender system. The river channel is now available for use by marine traffic that normally requires the bridge to be opened, but the span itself remains closed to pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles until the permanent repairs are completed and the bridge is returned to service.
Use of an approved jacking procedure is planned to remove the loading from the damaged components, according to the state agency. Approval also was received for shop drawings for the new structural steel elements, allowing for creation of the components.
Manufacturing of the longer lead items begins later in July, Fielding said. The contractor is estimating that the fabrication of the new steel components and their delivery to the site will take another four weeks.
Looking for Solutions
Hoping to move along the repairs, MassDOT brainstormed with the contractor to modify the work plan and avoid the need for environmental permits that could have delayed the start of the permanent repairs.
The transportation department also is looking into the feasibility of removing some of the damaged components ahead of time to compress the schedule further.
In addition, MassDOT is weighing the benefits of extending work shifts during the installation of the new steel components to advance the final work phase as quickly as possible so the bridge can be safely restored to normal operations, Fielding noted.
Currently, construction hours at the site are Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Span Was First Built in 1883
The Rock Village Bridge is a two-lane, steel hybrid truss bridge originally constructed in 1883 and known as the Merrimack Bridge. But, it was added onto again in 1895 and 1914 — each time with other types of truss styles — five in total — giving it a unique appearance.
It also has a historic hand-operated swing span built in 1883 by Boston Bridge Works.
The structure stretches 812-ft. over the Merrimack, with a main span 192 ft. in length, and a 24-ft.-wide roadway, the Daily News noted.
In 2013, a multiyear, $14.1 million restoration project funded through Massachusetts's accelerated bridge program closed the structurally deficient bridge. The posted height restriction for the structure is 12-ft.-6-in., but despite the installation of signs alerting drivers to its limits, accidents like the recent one where a truck struck the bridge still occurs from time to time:
- In 2018, a box truck lost its roof when it scraped the steel top of the bridge.
- In July 2019, the top cargo part of a Mack truck transporting an empty dumpster for a local disposal company struck a bridge bracing, causing it to fall from the back of the truck, damaging the bridge, a guardrail and the road.
- Yet another bridge strike, causing slight damage, happened in January 2020.
Members of the Town of Haverhill Select Board recently discussed the possibility of petitioning MassDOT to permanently close the Rocks Village Bridge to trucks, but the group agreed to seek legal counsel before making the request, the Newburyport newspaper reported.
Today's top stories