By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — David Allen crosses the Basiliere Bridge on foot almost daily between his apartment on the downtown side and several stores, restaurants and doughnut shops on the Bradford side.
He said it’s not unusual to see chunks of concrete fall from the underside of the structure into the Merrimack River below.
”I’ve seen so many pieces fall into the water,” Allen said of Haverhill’s busiest bridge at the eastern gateway to downtown.
City Councilor William Ryan told his colleagues last week that has received many complaints about the span from residents who believe its condition is worsening.
”The sidewalk is deteriorated, but when I looked over the edge near the tower in the middle I couldn’t believe how bad it was,” Ryan said. “There was concrete missing, the facade is rotting and the expansion joints are collapsing. Anyone who drives over it should stop and look over the side.”
Mayor James Fiorentini said he is aware of the council’s concerns and has directed city engineer John Pettis to get an update from the state on the bridge’s condition and the timetable for the replacement project.
“We are not aware of any immediate danger with this bridge,” Fiorentni said of the Basiliere Bridge. “We know that it is in the cue for either a major repair or replacement.”
In 2010, the state posted signs banning heavy trucks, including the Fire Department’s ladder trucks, from crossing the bridge, which is traveled by an average of 28,000 to 30,000 vehicles per day, according to transportation officials.
Instead, fire engines are supposed to use the Comeau Bridge, at the other end of downtown, to reach Bradford and other parts of the city south of the river.
Information from the state Department of Transportation shows a project to replace Basiliere Bridge and a nearby railroad bridge is in the “conceptual stage” with an expected cost of $55.2 million. Ryan noted the project has been on the state list of transportation improvements for at least a decade, however.
”If we don’t press the state, it will continue to be on the back of the list,” Ryan said of the project. “I don’t want to read someday that it collapsed while people were walking on it. This has become a serious issue and we need to push on it.”
Fiorentini noted the state has spent more than $100 million in the last few years repairing and replacing bridges in the city, including the Comeau Bridge, the Bates Bridge, the Rocks Village Bridge and an ongoing project to rebuild the MBTA railroad bridge.
”We know that a designer has been selected, but I do not know a construction start date at this time,” the mayor said of the Basiliere Bridge project. “The state has always been attentive whenever we have called them about our bridges. The last time there was a concern about (the Basiliere Bridge) we called the state and they came out within a day or two, and made the minor repairs that were necessary.”
City Councilor Thomas Sullivan said the Basiliere Bridge was on the state list for bridge work when he worked at the Statehouse in 2001.
”It’s worth keeping in mind that this bridge is next to a corner of the downtown where a major development project is in the works,” Sullivan said. “We need to fix it now and we need to make it so our fire trucks can go over it.”
The Boston Archdiocese’s affordable housing arm recently purchased two large buildings on Merrimack Street and is working on redeveloping several prominent properties in the area with the Greater Haverhill Foundation. The foundation owns the long vacant F.W. Woolworth building, which directly abuts the Basiliere Bridge.