By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A “structural problem” discovered in the final stages of building the new Groveland Bridge is not expected to significantly delay its opening early next year, a state official said.
Work on the span that will connect Haverhill and Groveland stopped last week. A worker told a neighbor that there are problems with gears that open the movable portion of the bridge to boats.
But Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the “potential structural concerns” are not expected to delay the opening. He added that a definitive opinion on whether that issue could delay the project has not yet been made.
“The contractor is presently implementing additional work to address this issue,” reads an Aug. 8 advisory put out by the transportation agency. “However, a definitive time frame for shifting the traffic (from the old Groveland Bridge to the new span) has not yet been made.”
The advisory said construction is 89 percent done. Last week, state officials said the bridge is expected to be ready for traffic early next year.
The old Groveland Bridge — formally known as the Congressman William H. Bates Bridge — will remain open to carry traffic over the Merrimack River until the new 775-foot-long structure is complete.
After the new bridge opens, the old span will be dismantled and hauled away by the contractor, officials said. The new bridge is about 60 feet down river from the old one.
The $50 million project also includes reconstruction of the approaches leading up to the bridge on both sides, as well as traffic signal and roadway improvements at the intersection of Groveland Street and Lincoln Avenue in Haverhill.
Another nearby span being reconstructed by the state, the historic Rocks Village Bridge, is scheduled to reopen to traffic Sept. 29, officials said recently. That bridge is used by residents of Haverhill, West Newbury, Merrimac and several southern New Hampshire towns.
The Rocks Village Bridge was originally expected to reopen this month, but unanticipated problems with the “track chair” mechanics that open the span for boats to pass underneath caused a delay. The track chair is essentially a cast iron ring upon which sits a variety of equipment designed to support the swing span, which is the bridge’s removable center section.
The month-long delay means vehicles that would normally use the bridge, including school buses, must continue using alternate routes until late September. As a consequence, students riding buses to nearby Whittier Regional High will face longer rides than usual during the first month of school.
The historic bridge, built in 1883 and rebuilt in 1914, was closed to traffic on June 18 of last year, forcing drivers who used the 812-foot span to find alternate routes. The state is spending about $13 million on the project.