NEWBURYPORT — Driving between Newburyport and Amesbury is going to be much easier once again.
Road blocks will be removed this morning, and passenger cars can begin traveling over the Hines bridge starting at 10 a.m. The bridge will have a weight restriction that prohibits trucks from crossing the structure.
The long-troubled bridge received $925,000 in repairs to reopen temporarily before a project to replace the entire structure begins later this year. Public officials said they decided to reopen the bridge at the urging of officials from surrounding towns affected by the closure.
The bridge, which connects Newburyport and Amesbury, has been closed since Nov. 13, when a barge carrying a 220-ton National Grid transformer hit the northern pier of the bridge, causing significant damage.
Its closure has affected Amesbury, Newburyport and Salisbury, which has been hit hard with diverted traffic.
At a meeting in January, local and state leaders urged the Massachusetts Highway Department to open the bridge as quickly as possible, even if for just a short time, as the abrupt, unexpected closing caused inconvenience for businesses and residents.
MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky said yesterday that message came through loud and clear, and today's opening is the filling of a promise to reopen the bridge, even if just partially, by the summer tourism season. Both lanes of the bridge will be open to traffic.
Extensive testing was performed on the bridge, something Paiewonsky called "a good investment," saying her department got a "clear message" from state and local leaders of what an important link the span is for residents.
The bridge will remain open until the rehabilitation and replacement project for the Hines gets underway. It is scheduled to begin this year, and it is on an accelerated track, Paiewonsky said. It will take 21âÑ2 years to complete once the project begins.
"This is on an aggressive timetable," she said.
For now, the state has an extensive monitoring system in place, the commissioner said, and the bridge will be repaired or closed if anything is found to be compromised.
Structural engineers will be on site this weekend, doing hands-on monitoring, Paiewonsky said.
State Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, called the opening "good news" and said it is an example of working together to move forward. Baddour said the state could see significant reimbursement for the cost to repair the bridge through possible litigation.
"We heard loud and clear from the chambers, from each of the mayors and town manager. It was a regional effort," Baddour said.
State Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, said yesterday he was pleased to be able to answer one of the most-asked questions he gets. At an event yesterday morning, Costello was approached and asked when the bridge would open.
"It was very nice to be able say back to him: 'Yeah, I know exactly when it's going to open — tomorrow," he said.
People are excited by the news, Costello said, adding that he's grateful for the rapid movement taken by MassHighway to get the bridge open.
"When it's not there, you realize how much you use it," Costello said. "It will make life a lot easier for people who live and work in the area."