NH official backs plan to repair Downeaster bridge

The Downeaster rolls through Wells in April 2007. Officials say a Massachusetts bridge the Downeaster crosses needs major repair.
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The Downeaster rolls through Wells in April 2007. Officials say a Massachusetts bridge the Downeaster crosses needs major repair.
By Jennifer Keefe, Foster's Daily Democrat
Posted Aug. 20, 2011, at 7:06 a.m.

HAVERHILL, Mass. — At least one New Hampshire official supports Granite State funding of repairs to a bridge in Haverhill, over the Merrimack River that services the Amtrak Downeaster.

The bridge, which needs replacing, spans 150 feet and sees traffic not only from the Downeaster, but from freight and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority commuter rails as well.

Peter Burling, chairman of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, said New Hampshire should help repair the bridge because its Downeaster passengers make up a large portion of the train’s ridership.

He called the bridge an “immediate problem;” however, Massachusetts officials are already working on a solution.

According to Edmund Tavernier, chief engineer for the Massachusetts commuter rail, there is a federally funded consultant working on a redesign.

Actually doing the repair work, however, requires another set of funding, and the timeline for the repair is based on that funding.

Tavernier said there will be a request for funding, but anticipates it could be a lengthy process as the estimated cost of repair is about $15 million.

“It’s an expensive project,” he said.

He said the bridge is still safe. The future outlook for the bridge’s redesign also takes into consideration improvements to overall rail service — for instance, the bridge currently has a speed restriction, which would be addressed in any redesign.

If the bridge is shut down for any length of time, Tavernier said there would be buses utilized to bring Downeaster and commuter rail passengers from the Haverhill station to the next station.

As the bridge is over water, Tavernier said there is “no other way.”

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said she doesn’t anticipate Maine will contribute funds to the bridge’s repair because it is also used for freight and commuter rail services out of Massachusetts.

“I think we would support applications for federal funding to pay for part of that, but Maine hasn’t been interested in contributing capital dollars to that bridge,” she said.

Copyright (c) 2011, Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/20/business/official-downeaster-bridge-needs-backing-for-replacement/ printed on July 31, 2014