EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

January 25, 2013

$60M project for span over Merrimack starts this year

$60M project for span over river starts this year

HAVERHILL — While the train bridge crossing the Merrimack River receives repairs over the next three years, the project will cause few interruptions to train service.

So said state officials who have unveiled the project to strengthen the century-old bridge at the western end of downtown.

The bridge carries trains to the downtown commuter station, which is popular with residents of hundreds of apartments and condos in old shoe factories. Those housing complexes have helped resurrect the city center.

Designers of the bridge project said repairs will happen in ways that will allow trains to use the bridge at their normal times.

“I think it’s a terrific project,” Mayor James Fiorentini said. “One of the biggest things that has helped with the downtown renaissance is the train station. The fact that a commuter can live downtown, leave their car at home and commute to Boston has been very big for us and this (bridge repair project) ensures this will continue, and there won’t be a time when they have to close that bridge.”

Some city councilors have said they fear the old bridge that carries commuter and freight trains over the river each day would eventually collapse. The two-track span is similar in design to one that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007. Haverhill’s train bridge has been repaired several times in recent years while the MBTA began preparations for a bigger overhaul.

The $60 million project is expected to begin in the fall and be completed by the end of 2016, officials said.

The job includes repairs to the small bridge that crosses downtown Washington Street at the edge of the train station. Officials said there will be minimal interruptions to car traffic during repairs to that bridge over the roadway.

The bridges are owned by the MBTA and used by the MBTA’s commuter rail, Amtrak’s Downeaster that runs between Boston and Maine, and by Pan American freight trains. Daily rail service includes about 36 passenger trains and 10 freight trains, according to MBTA/MassDOT spokeswoman Kelly Smith.

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