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January 30, 2008

No return to traffic nightmare; Groveland Bridge will stay open while new one is built

HAVERHILL - Mention building a new bridge, and a commuter's nightmare might come to mind for local drivers.

They remember all too well going five years without a bridge at the west end of downtown. The old, deteriorated Comeau Bridge closed in 2002, and its replacement didn't open until September of last year - forcing drivers to find another way to cross the Merrimack River and causing rush-hour traffic jams.

That won't be the case when the state builds a new Groveland Bridge at the east end of Haverhill, transportation officials said.

The new Groveland Bridge, which links the Riverside section of Haverhill with downtown Groveland, will be built a few yards downstream from the existing bridge, said Tony Komornick, transportation program manager for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission. He said the project would take two or three years to complete, and that during that time the existing bridge will remain open to traffic.

Komornick said the bridge received a very low rating during a review by MassHighway officials, but that it is not unsafe to drive across.

"If it were unsafe the state would have closed it, like it did with the Comeau Bridge," he said. "There would be no interruption in service, which is a critical part of this project.

"You need that bridge because you have a hospital and shopping center nearby," he said. "It's a major commuter route."

Merrimack Valley Hospital and Riversedge shopping plaza are on the Haverhill side of the bridge. The bridge also channels traffic to and from streets that connect to Interstate 95 and the Newburyport area.

Komornick said he is uncertain of the timetable for replacing the Groveland Bridge - that funding for the job must come first.

The 101-year-old Groveland Bridge is used by more than 21,000 vehicles per day on average, transportation officials said.

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