Rocks Village Bridge boat

Workers with Salisbury-based SPS New England take a boat out to the Rocks Village Bridge shortly after its reopening.

WEST NEWBURY — With one exception, the installation of new signage on and around the Rocks Village Bridge is complete.

Public Works Director Wayne Amaral confirmed on Thursday that five signs were installed on Main Street and Ferry Lane to alert drivers who are approaching the historic bridge of the height restriction for motorists looking to cross the Merrimack River from West Newbury into Haverhill.

An additional sixth sign is being designed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The plan is to install the sign about 200 feet south of the span on Bridge Street. It will be mounted overhead and read: “Bridge Low Clearance 12 FT 6 IN.”

“I hope to see a sample drawing to review in a few more weeks,” Amaral said, noting that installation of the sixth sign will not happen until summer.

The bridge is a two-lane, steel hybrid truss bridge originally constructed in 1794 and known as the Merrimack Bridge. Its current incarnation includes a hand-operated historic swing span built in 1883 by Boston Bridge Works. According to state records, it is 812 feet long with a main span of 192 feet long and a 24-foot-wide roadway.

Last month, the bridge reopened to vehicular and marine traffic after being closed for months following an accident involving a tall truck that significantly damaged its structural capacity.

In conjunction with the repairs to the bridge, MassDOT developed a local and regional warning signage plan highlighting the 12-foot, 6-inch vertical clearance restriction on the bridge. Prior to installing the permit signs, a series of portable changeable message signs were used to advise drivers of the restriction.

Local officials initially had mixed feelings about the state’s sign plans for signage – concerned that what had been proposed was overly large and not in keeping with the town’s rural character.

In some cases, the Select Board felt the chosen placement for the signs was not ideal. The town got short notice that the road work was taking place so there was really no time for the municipality to offer its input. A decal-type warning reading "Low Bridge Ahead” that was affixed to Bridge Street and River Road at the spots where the town-owned roadways approach the span was viewed as overly large.

“It’s big. It’s very big,” Select Board member Wendy Reed told colleagues during an October discussion. Select Board member Rick Parker responded that if the plan was adopted as is, “at some point it is going to really be an eyesore. Residents who live in the area are going to be unhappy. They’re going to feel –and rightly so – that they’re living on the interstate.”

The town garnered input from residents on the proposed signage; and Amaral continued to discuss the plans with MassDOT. But the board is now OK with the signs as installed, Town Manager Angus Jennings confirmed on Friday.

The bridge has been closed three times in the past four years due to damage from oversized trucks – as well as a multiyear closure for a $14.1 million state restoration project beginning in 2013.

Commuters and businesses from Haverhill, Merrimac, southern New Hampshire, West Newbury and other neighboring communities – as well as the Pentucket Regional School District and Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School – are greatly affected when the bridge is unavailable.

Earlier this year, Haverhill and West Newbury officials urged the state to permanently close the bridge to large trucks. But MassDOT rejected the idea, saying the 2013 restoration project was designed to make the structure accessible to all types of traffic.

Trending Video

Recommended for you