By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Work crews rebuilding the Whittier Bridge were reminded of safety protocols yesterday, the morning after a worker fell 10 feet off a barge and into the Merrimack River around 5 p.m. Tuesday just as his shift was ending.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MasDOT) spokesman Michael Verseckes said a Walsh Construction employee working on a construction barge was preparing to get on an arriving tugboat for a ride back to shore when he slipped and fell into the water. In the process, the worker’s upper torso slammed into the barge. Other Walsh crew members, who had been trained in water rescues, retrieved the worker from the water and transported him to land, Verseckes added.
By the time Newburyport firefighters arrived at the scene to assist, the worker was at the Spring Lane project site and was walking on his own. As a precaution, the worker was transported to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport where he was diagnosed with four cracked ribs, according to Verseckes.
Newburyport fire Chief Christopher LeClaire said firefighters from both stations responded to the scene, located near the city’s water pumping and filtration station. He estimated the water as roughly 40 degrees in temperature but said the worker was pulled out before hypothermia set in.
The roughly $300 million bridge replacement project — considered one of the largest highway jobs in the state — will involve demolishing the 58-year-old, six-lane span connecting Amesbury and Newburyport over the Merrimack River and replacing it with an eight-lane bridge with four lanes on each side. It also includes the replacement or reconstruction of eight nearby bridges along I-95 in Newburyport and Amesbury and widening I-95 between exit 57 in Newburyport and exit 60 in Salisbury.
According to MassDOT, the project is proceeding on schedule with most of the work due to be completed by August, 2016. The project is slated to be officially completed by October, 2016.
The northbound section of the bridge is due to be completed by November, 2014. Once completed, both directions of traffic will be re-routed on the northbound side while work begins on the southbound side. The new bridge will actually consist of two spans, one on each side of the highway, replacing the current one-span that handles traffic in both directions, according to MassDOT officials.
Work crews have been stationed on multiple barges, featuring different colors and cranes of various lengths, on the northbound side of the bridge. A tugboat has been assigned to transport ferry workers to and from the Spring Lane project center to the barges.
Verseckes said Tuesday’s accident was the first since the project began.
In June, a Barletta Engineering contractor working on the nearby 1st Lt. Derek S. Hines Memorial Bridge sustained a head injury when he lost his footing and fell from the bridge’s fender, a structure that juts from the bridge to prevent damage to it and to boats that may strike it, into the water. The bridge, along with the adjacent Chain Bridge were closed for roughly 45 minutes as Amesbury and Newburyport firefighters, along with a Coast Guard boat responded to the accident.