Cars cross the Bates Bridge which will be replaced with a new one 60 feet downriver.

Like many drivers, Paul Kaknes is a bit wary crossing Bates Bridge connecting Haverhill to Groveland, a span that is rusting and crumbling into the Merrimack River below.

“The only thing that makes me a little nervous is when the heavy trucks go over it,” said Kaknes, owner the K’s Citgo gas station on the Haverhill side of the bridge.

The danger is not imagined — the state calls the 775-foot span “structurally deficient.”

On a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being the best, the bridge’s quality gets a two, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The wait for a replacement is almost over.

Starting next summer, a $45 million span will be built about 60 feet downstream, next to the 94-year-old bridge, which will remain open to traffic as construction continues through at least 2010.

The new Bates Bridge is among several major transportation projects in the Merrimack Valley that MassHighway plans to start within the next four years.

The list of MassHighway projects was unveiled Thursday by the Merrimack Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, a board with representatives from area communities that distributes all federal transportation money locally.

Haverhill is the clear winner among its neighbors, raking in more than $64 million in upgrades, including replacing Bates Bridge, while Andover and North Andover were not approved for any projects.

Lawrence will receive $11.7 million to rehabilitate the Duck Bridge and East Haverhill Street bridge over the Spicket River, and to reconstruct the intersection at Canal and Union streets.

In Methuen, Route 113 will be resurfaced from the Interstate 93 rotary to the Dracut town line, costing $865,000.

“It’s very, very welcomed and needed on such a heavily traveled road,” said state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen.

MassHighway also plans to repave Interstate 495 from Haverhill to Salisbury, an $11 million project expected to start in 2009.

Additional Haverhill infrastructure upgrades include repaving 2.7 miles of bumpy River Street next year and starting the long-awaited reconstruction of South Main Street in Bradford. The state also plans to rehabilitate the Rocks Village Bridge to West Newbury, replace Ferry Road bridge over a rail line and pay for the first phase of the downtown riverwalk project along the Merrimack River.

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini has heard from people that, typically, Lawrence and Lowell seem to get most of the state and federal aid that comes into the area.

“If Haverhill people got a little bit on this, I’d say it’s about time,” Fiorentini said. “We’re happy to have some projects coming to fruition.”

Dennis DiZoglio, director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, said the Merrimack Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization could pay for relatively few of the 200 regional projects on its list and needed in the area from Andover to Newburyport.

But projects on its list should get more money after 2014 when the Big Dig project in Boston is paid off, freeing up cash for the rest of the state.

“That money will be able to go back to the regions to fix the infrastructure,” he said.

DiZoglio, whose commission provides professional support to the Merrimack Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, said Haverhill was not favored on the list for any special reason. Its projects simply needed to be done to keep throughways open.

If Bates Bridge failed and was closed, it would cause a disruption in Groveland and Haverhill. The bridge is a major throughway, handling traffic from routes 113 and 97.

“It allows communities to be connected,” DiZoglio said.

Fiorentini said repaving River Street, the major thoroughfare along the Merrimack River that connects downtown to Interstate 495, could begin in the spring. It would include a 2.7-mile stretch from the Methuen city line to Maxwell Street next to the Jaffarian Volvo and Toyota dealership.

“River Street I think is in deplorable condition,” Fiorentini said.

The South Main Street reconstruction has been discussed for about 10 years, the mayor said, delayed due to design conflicts. Those problems have been ironed out and it appears it will happen, he said.

DiZoglio said the only possible delays to projects on the recently unveiled list are unforeseen problems such as permitting or conservation issues, or right-of-way disputes.

Bates Bridge

Named for the late Congressman William H. Bates of Salem, Mass.

Also called Groveland Bridge.

Built in 1913 and refurbished in the early 1950s.

New bridge construction to start next year and cost $45 million.

Length, 775 feet.

The new bridge will have a movable span similar to the existing bridge.

The project includes reconstructing the roadway to connect to the new bridge, which is about 60 feet downstream.

Source: MassHighway

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