WEST NEWBURY — The rehabilitation of the historic Rocks Village Bridge connecting West Newbury and Haverhill across the Merrimack River has been put on the fast track, with the $14 million project scheduled to go out to bid in July.
State officials told local leaders and residents this week the bridge is expected to be shut down for 14 months beginning in June 2012 to allow for reconstruction.
Originally built in 1795, the aging structure has been fast-tracked for improvements on the state's Accelerated Bridge Program, Matt Hopkinson of the Department of Transportation told about 30 people gathered at a public forum Thursday night in Town Annex.
There are no federal funds involved in the project, which aims to conduct a "sensitive rehabilitation of a historically significant structure" Hopkinson said.
Design plans, which are 75 percent complete, will address the structure's extensive deterioration, improve its inadequate load capacity and create better access for emergency vehicles and school buses.
Pentucket Regional School District students living in Merrimac cross the bridge daily to attend middle and high school in West Newbury, as do some students from Groveland and West Newbury who attend Whittier Vocational Regional High School in Haverhill.
The project will take particular care in repairs to the mechanical aspects of the swing span — the only manually operated swing span remaining in the state on the oldest moveable bridge in Massachusetts. A toll bridge until 1878, the 805-foot Rocks Village Bridge washed out in 1818 and was rebuilt in 1828 and again in 1915.
The work includes replacing the deck, strengthening the superstructure and mortaring, patching, resetting stones and repairing the fender on the bridge's under structure, piers and abutments. Live load capacity will increase to accommodate a 20-ton, two-axle truck. Although state officials said the bridge's 12-foot-6-inch vertical limit is inadequate, it will not be changed as part of this project.