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October 15, 2013

Sound barrier fight goes on

State to hold update on bridge project on Oct. 23

AMESBURY— Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials are expected to brief the public about the latest on its massive Whittier Memorial Bridge construction Oct. 23 during a public forum at 7 p.m. at Amesbury High School.

In the process, MassDOT officials are likely expecting numerous complaints from nearby residents fed up with the state’s insistence that it will not replace a series of decades-old sound barriers with more efficient ones as part of the multi-million dollar project.

The topic of noise pollution and the state’s unwillingness to spend money on improving existing sound barriers has reached Beacon Hill, as local lawmakers recently announced they found MassDOT’s position unacceptable and would go over its head to voice their concerns.

So far, however, the concerns of state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives and state Rep. Michael Costello, both Democrats, have done little to alter MassDOT’s position, at least publicly.

Last month, O’Connor Ives arranged a meeting between Beacon Hill lawmakers and residents living close to Interstate 95 near Laurel Road and Ferry Road. But that meeting was abruptly canceled after O’Connor Ives feared the informational gathering had become a mayoral campaign issue. The meeting would have included an appearance by MassDOT project manager Ernie Monroe, who would have updated affected residents and resolved issues related to construction.

According to Ferry Road resident Sarah Pratt, she and about 10 other Laurel Road and Ferry Road residents recently met with Monroe at the job site, essentially fulfilling his intention of meeting residents.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday has been turning up the heat as well, drafting a letter to MassDOT acting district 4 highway director Paul Steadman dated Aug. 26, formally requesting MassDOT’s approval for a higher and longer barrier wall that would be paid for by bridge contractor Walsh-McCourt as compensation for its use of land off Spring Lane for a staging area.

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