Should the Rocks Village Bridge be Done Over?


Photo Source: Mike Jarvis , WHAV News

Ava DiBurro, Writer

A little more than two centuries ago, the Rocks Village Bridge was built in 1794, and along came its epiphany of problems. At 900 ft. long and 24 ft. wide, the toll-free bridge connects the towns of Merrimac, Haverhill, and West Newbury. Easily enough it was given the name, Merrimack Bridge. 

The bridge’s biggest problem is its width. The narrowness makes it a tight squeeze for any size car, but especially for larger trucks. A student at Pentucket, Dan H said, “it’s genuinely scary to cross.”

Between 1818 and 1973, the bridge faced numerous repairs, and it was re-built a total of three times. At times, a local ferry replaced the bridge while it was being repaired. 

Due to the cost of constant repairs, in 1857, the state legislature enacted that all bridges in Essex County would have a toll. The 30 cent toll for a trip across ended in 1868. The old toll house is still next to the bridge, serving as a small museum. 

Then, in 1974, the state incorporated the bridge into the Rocks Village Historic District, hence the modern name the Rocks Village Bridge.

However, within the past ten years, the bridge has been closed for repairs five separate times. Hunter Tocci, a junior at Pentucket, believes that “The bridge was just under construction for a great deal of time, why do it again for no reason? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Ashley Gagnon agreed with Tocci, saying, “The bridge being redone would be nice, but many consider it an inconvenience, as the time-table for a new bridge would be just as long as it being closed for repairs.” 

Jessica Brann followed suit, stating, “The bridge was just fixed so it is okay for now.” 

Along with the historical society, a Pentucket student, Johnny Igoe, agrees with keeping the bridge how it is: “The Rocks Village Bridge has a lot of history and should be well-preserved. If it was done over, the history behind the bridge may be lost.”

Historic is right. The bridge has a hand-operated swing span to accommodate boats along the river, making it the oldest bridge in the state. In attempts to persevere the bridge’s outer steel frame, the design and engineering team of Massachusetts DOT (Department of Transportation), three different town committees, and a historic society all have jurisdiction over the bridge. 

It was not until this past February, that the state decided on a sign plan after the town of West Newbury and other board members would not approve putting a striker bar on the bridge. The debate continued on and the committees settled for regular sized signs around the area, including putting ones before the exits on I-495 and 95. 

Nevertheless, others continue to worry about the safety of the bridge because of its small size. Another Pentucket student said, “I know it will take a long time but the bridge isn’t safe. The height is too short, there are no sidewalks, and the lanes are too small. There have been multiple situations where bad things happen on the bridge.”

Photo Source: Mike Jarvis , WHAV News

Now, within the past four years the bridge has been hit three times, all with one vehicle in common, tractor trailers. That does not include the 2013 replacement of six new steel beams that cost $14.1 million because of rust. 

The most recent closure lasted from March 17, 2022 to October 12, 2022, a span of eight months. The main reason for the long closure was they were unable to work on the bridge, as the  historic society decided to leave it open for boat traffic during the summer. 

Photo Source: Dave Rogers, Newburyport Daily News

The shutdown of the bridge deeply affected the surrounding communities, especially the students in the Pentucket school district. 

Emily Bethmann, a sophomore, said, “The Rocks Village Bridge has had consistent problems over the last few years, which makes it very difficult for people commuting over it. Students at Pentucket who live in Merrimac had an extremely long commute to school because of the bridge being closed. It is nice that the historical society is preserving it, however it is causing too many problems to continue using it.”

Another student agreed saying, “The bridge should be fixed completely so people can use it accordingly. About 10 years ago, the bridge connecting Groveland and Haverhill was redone because it was rusting and falling apart. The bridge is there for a reason – to help shorten rides for people whose destination is across the river. Don’t make their trip even longer. Just don’t.”

Photo Source: Dave Rogers, Newburyport Daily News

Many students agreed that the bridge needs to be done over, but it would become an “inconvenience and trips across the river and to school would be way too long.”

In the end, the idea of redoing the Rocks Village Bridge is appealing, but the uncertainty of a realistic time-table diminishes the support of many. Plus, under the historical society’s protection, it seems unlikely that the bridge will be redone any time soon.