With Tuesday’s reopening of the Rocks Village Bridge, attention once again centered on the future of truck traffic over the span.
Appearing over WHAV, state Rep. Lenny Mirra explained why it’s not easy to ban trucks from using the bridge.
“Here’s the problem. Massachusetts law requires that we get approval from all surrounding communities to do that. So, this bridge has the Chain Bridge downriver from it in Newburyport and then it has the Groveland Bridge upriver from Groveland into Haverhill. In order for us to get that exclusion we would have to get approval from all those communities, and basically it’s like asking Newburyport, ‘Hey, do you mind if we send these large trucks to your bridge?’ so they don’t go over our bridge,” he said.
And Mirra said the challenge doesn’t end there.
“Even if we were to get those approvals, DOT is telling us that the feds may have a problem with this as well because, apparently when they first got the funding for this bridge, it came with the understanding that the bridge would be open to truck traffic. So, getting a truck exclusion may be in violation of federal regulations,” Mirra explained.
To achieve a truck ban, Mirra said, first requires obtaining approvals from surrounding towns and then getting a signoff from the federal Department of Transportation.
The latest in about 10 bridge crashes since 2014, came March 17 this year after an over height tractor trailer combination struck a portion of the bridge with a loud crash, described by a neighbor as “like a bomb went off.” At the time, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said they closed East Main Street in Haverhill and Bridge Street in West Newbury at River Road and Wharf Lane.
Within a month, Haverhill city councilors called for a total truck ban. City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett told her colleagues the city put up warning signs on its side of the bridge and reduced the speed limit from 35 to 30 miles-per-hour after previous problems. She said, however, it obviously was not enough.
“We don’t have the ability to exclude trucks from the bridge because that is a MassDOT decision. I would suggest that we write to both MassDOT and West Newbury to look at a truck exclusion on the bridge and, in the meantime, West Newbury could put up a sign warning trucks about the size and height,” she suggested.
Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan also called for area legislators to push for a ban.
Neither clearance bars nor permanent signs were ready for Tuesday’s state reopening. Transportation officials said this week the majority of the signs are expected to be installed this month. In the interim, a series of portable changeable message signs will be used to advise drivers of the restriction.