“Did he say what year?” That’s probably the question that would come to mind for many of the longsuffering former users of the Mill Road Bridge.
But it’s true. “The overall completion of the work is expected to be in mid-June (2009),” was the confirmation I received from Colin Durrant of MassHighway. Mr. Durrant is in charge of Media Relations.
The director of the DPW in Ipswich (Bob Gravino) shared the same news, “Come the middle of June it should be back on line.”
Mr. Gravino doubted that there would be a ceremony similar to the January 5th event when the Parker River Bridge in Newbury was reopened. “That closing was planned,” he said. “This one was an emergency. People will just be glad to have it back.”
It will be difficult for a visitor stopping by the Mill Road Bridge site now to imagine it will be reopening soon. On March 26th, my visit turned up birds singing, water rushing, a horse grazing, but no workers. I also noted that as I viewed the bridge from the Ipswich side I could still see where the bridge appeared to have dropped on the left side.
I expressed my concerns to Mr. Gravino in a phone interview. “The most difficult and expensive part is now complete,” he assured me. “The structural part is finished. The final step is to rip up the roadbed, rebuild it, and repave it.”
Why hasn’t the final work started yet? “Nothing is going on right now because they haven’t had the right weather to do it,” he explained. “We could still get a snowstorm.” If you’ve lived around here for a while, you know he’s not making that late snowstorm part up.
Snow is one thing but the rain that belted the Ipswich region starting on May 13, 2006 was another. The rains may have let up three days later but the flooding had just begun. Roadways were closed as well as bridges.
The scary thought was that the Mill Road Bridge was in use until May 17th handling a huge volume of heavy vehicles and mounting volume. If the surface then is what it looks like now, you wonder how many more vehicles it could have handled before giving way.
Once its dangerous condition was spotted, the bridge was abruptly closed. MassHighway was quickly involved and the bridge was stabilized by pouring concrete under the piers to offset the scouring that the floodwaters had done on the riverbed.
The next part was the full-scale structural repair. A double-arched, stone bridge built in 1829 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places would not see a quick-fix approach. There was little visual evidence that anything was being done and a rumor made the rounds in July (2008) that the project had been stopped.
It hadn’t, but the public couldn’t tell otherwise because they couldn’t see what was being done. With private property on both sides of the bridge, and boats prohibited from the bridge area, there was no way to be certain if anything was being repaired. But it was and now both MassHighway and Ipswich officials assure us that the structure out of sight is successfully finished.
The arrival of heavy equipment to the Mill Road Bridge area in April/May to do the roadwork will signal the beginning of the end of nearly three years of alternate routes for many people.
Would this be the place to mention to Ipswich folks, that the MassHighway will begin the bridge replacement on Route 1A (High Street) over the MBTA and B&M Railroad this fall, according to their website? Didn’t think so!