(This will be more of a pictorial coverage of the January 5th opening of the Parker River Bridge. The “official” version, which will appear in The Town Common, is in the entry below this one. Everything underlined in this entry can be clicked on and should show a picture from the event. I used similar coverage when I reported on the Amesbury Super Bowl victory.)
The early plans, to keep the bridge partially open as the repair work went on, gave way to the bad news that the bridge was too unsafe for such a plan and the only solution was to close it and completely rebuild it. That closing took place on September 27, 2007.
The impact was felt immediately. Instead of driving approximately 200 yards to get from one side to the other, the trip was closer to ten miles. Almost simultaneously, gas prices lurched skyward. It was not a happy time for many.
Then the, “Am I reading this right?” news started trickling out that the bridge work was ahead of schedule. And sure enough, on January 5th, the bridge reopened.
Any public works project in Massachusetts that is done early is cause for celebration and there was plenty of that at the ceremony.
I did get a sense before the ceremony that those closest to the bridge, despite being happy it was restored, had gone through quite an ordeal during it construction. You had to pity Kate Huggins who house is situated as close to the north side as anyone. I spent a few days this summer living near a construction site in Pennsylvania so I had a small idea of what 15 months of rebuilding must have been like. Deliveries are made late at night and in the early AMs. Trucks have to back up……and you know what that sounds like. And then there’s the noise. Kate was given flowers at the ceremony for surviving the long ordeal.
Not surprising was the fact that there was no one on hand suggesting that the bridge shouldn’t have been repaired. Trust me, before the closing there was plenty of opposition. Senator Bruce Tarr and Representative Harriett Stanley were given honorary hardhats by the work crew and I believe it was Senator Tarr who quipped something like, “I could have used this hat when I went to some of the area town meetings concerning the bridge closure.”
I spoke with Rep Stanley before the ceremony. I had never met her before but fortunately, for me, she had on a MassHighway (?) jacket with her name on it so I found her easily. I identified myself and she scolded me for sending her an email requesting permission to speak to her at the ceremony. “You’re with the media. You can speak to me anytime,” she said. I asked her about her involvement in the bridge project and I’m glad I did. She has served as state rep for this area since 1994. She told me that after hearing about the condition of the bridge she had decided to look for herself in 1997. She brought a camera with her and crawled underneath the bridge for a look. What she saw prompted her to take pictures as she became convinced that the bridge was in dangerous shape. When she joked that she was the “arm twister” and “knee breaker” in getting the project started and completed I suspected that she had gotten into the faces and ears of numerous Mass DPW officials over it. The MassHighway commissioner, Luisa Paiewonsky, may have hinted at it when she said at the ceremony that she had a meeting with Rep Stanley to discuss ten issues and the representative would only talk about one – the Parker River Bridge.
I also spoke with Mrs. Ilsley before the ceremony. She told me that she lived about ½ mile away on High Road and had lived in the area all her life so she knew the bridge well. She said that the closure affected her significantly because she is a nurse at Sea View Nursing Home on the other side. She ended up with a trip, as a result, that was eleven miles. She said that she was surprised that things had been done so quickly. She remembered that one of the new bridge beams had been dropped on 128 on its way to being put up.
I also chatted with Terry O’Malley (assistant harbormaster of Newbury) who told me how the bridge work had affected his job on the Parker River. Later I would see Terry at the head of the line heading over the bridge when it opened. Terry directed me to the project manager for S&R Corporation – Russ Burnham. I told him that he had pleased many area folks by getting the project ahead of schedule and he credited others for making it possible. He also told me that there was some more work to be done in the spring but that it would only involve some brief lane closings. Having since driven over the bridge it is apparent that road resurfacing will be part of what S&R will do.
The ceremony was brief with five speakers. All commended the workers and the people in the community for getting the project done quickly. Selectman Stuart Dalzell spoke for Rowley and Selectman Joe Story spoke for Newbury. Joe was especially grateful to the town of Rowley for providing police and fire protection on the Rowley side of the bridge during construction.
Loquacious state senator Bruce Tarr was another of the speakers. I have heard him speak at Memorial Day services and knew that without notes in front of him he can turn some terrific phrases. I got this one on tape: “It is a testament to the fact that not only one person got involved or one person made a difference but everyone who got involved made a difference.” Try saying that one without notes! He told me afterwards that he had worked with MassHighway on practically a weekly basis to make sure that things at the bridge were proceeding smoothly.
After the ceremony Luisa, Harriett, and Bruce cut the ribbon and led the walk over to the Fernald side of the bridge and back. Bruce and Joe walked back together. There was also a group shot taken of some of the MassHighway workers and some of the speakers.
Next, the canopy was taken down and the removal of the barriers began. I talked to Terry O’Malley who was positioned at the head of the line of traffic ready to cross the bridge. I remarked to him about the significance of being the first one over. He suggested that he had probably cut in line by coming out of the wharf parking lot. He also suggested that Bunny Fernald had probably already gone over and back earlier in the day. His recollection also was that Bunny Fernald might have been the first one over the last time the bridge was closed and reopened when Bunny came over as an infant in his father’s car.
Russ Burnham got the signal from the Fernald side of the bridge and the Parker River Bridge in 1A in Newbury was back in business.