By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The new Groveland Bridge is open, and not a moment too soon for local drivers and merchants.
The bridge linking Haverhill and Groveland opened to traffic this morning. The 775-foot span cost $49.7 million to build and replaces the old Bates Bridge, commonly referred to as the Groveland Bridge, which was deteriorating.
The new bridge is massive and dwarfs the old span. When its single-leaf drawbridge rises up into the sky to allow boats to pass, the sight is impressive, observers said.
State transportation officials said the project will continue into next year with additional work, including the removal of the old bridge. The officials said they do not anticipate a major disruption to traffic while the old bridge is being removed.
Prior to yesterday’s opening celebration of the new bridge, officially named the Congressman William H. Bates Bridge, drivers and workers talked about the project.
Elizabeth Webster of Groveland was stopped for gas at K’s Gulf on the Haverhill side of the bridge.
“I ride a motorcycle and the old bridge is so bumpy that I’ve been scared of falling over,” she said. “I’m excited about the new bridge opening. I can’t wait.”
Paul Kaknes, owner of K’s Gulf, said his customers have repeatedly asked him when the new bridge will open. After yesterday’s announcement by the state that the bridge would be open to traffic this morning, Kaknes began relaying the good news to his customers.
“It will mean more heavy truck traffic,” Kaknes said. Because of the old bridge’s age and deteriorated condition, big trucks were not allowed to cross it.
Kaknes said his gas delivery trucks would leave a depot in Chelsea and travel Interstate 93 to Interstate 495, then drive through Haverhill and onto Water Street to reach his station.
“They can now drive up Route 1 to (Interstate) 95 and through Groveland to get here, saving about a half-hour driving time,” he said. “They opened the new bridge in the nick of time. This will avoid a major collapse of the old bridge. If it had collapsed, all of the businesses here would have closed.”
Kaknes said he has watched the bridge being built and thought the contractor did excellent work.
“This is a great bridge,” he said.
Across the street at the Hess Express gas station and convenience store, worker Sarah Clark was pleasantly surprised to learn the new bridge would be opening today.
“We have a lot of customers who ask us every day, ‘When is it going to open?’” Clark said. “They say the old bridge is scary to cross and can’t wait for the new bridge to open.
“I can’t wait to drive over it,” Clark said.
Marcel Saade, owner of Marcel’s Autowork at 500 Groveland St., near the Haverhill side of the bridge, said he’s been watching the bridge take shape as well.
“The workers did a very good job with it,” Saade said. “We’ve all been waiting for it to open.”