To the editor:
I was just wondering. Since the state has started the complete reconstruction of the I-95 Whittier Bridge over the Merrimack River, has anyone considered the possibility of constructing an emergency water supply interconnection with our neighbors on the other side of the river?
As a former water commissioner for the City of Newburyport for 10 years, the lack of an emergency interconnection was often considered a weak link in our water distribution system. Newburyport’s water system is not interconnected with any other community that could assist the city in an emergency, such as a significant outbreak of water contamination, a drop in water pressure due to a water main break, especially during a major fire, drought or some other disaster. Newburyport would also be able to assist other interconnected communities, but the primary purpose would be for emergencies. Attaching utility pipes under bridges is a common engineering practice and makes even more sense when you consider that Newburyport’s water filtration and pumping facility on Spring Lane are located adjacent to the I-95 southbound lane just south of the new bridge.
The other two bridges in the city, the Hines Bridge and the Gillis Bridge, are not feasible for this purpose since they are used for navigation purposes by opening and closing for boat traffic. The project could perhaps be carried out in phases, but the critical part now would be to connect the pipe to the new bridge while it’s under construction.
Hopefully, 10 years from now we won’t be asking the question that was asked after the “Big Dig” was completed: “Why didn’t we connect North Station to South Station?” I believe it’s not too late. If the weak link is to be addressed, this would be the best time to do it.