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Designer Chosen for New Rourke Bridge in Lowell

August 29, 2018

LOWELL -- Residents for years have doubted that a permanent Rourke Bridge would ever come to fruition.

If they listened to state officials Tuesday evening, maybe that skepticism was finally lifted.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation selected a designer on Tuesday for the “temporary” Rourke Bridge, which has been temporary since the 1980s.

So when will the ribbon get cut on a permanent bridge? State officials have an 8.5-year timeline for the project, bringing the opening to 2026 or 2027.

“We’re a few years out,” MassDOT Project Manager Steven McLaughlin told the City Council on Tuesday.

“We’re asking you to bear with us,” he later added.

The project’s estimated cost at this point is $70 million. The figure will change based on final design.

On Tuesday, MassDOT selected HNTB Corporation as the project’s designer. They’re a large architecture and engineering firm, McLaughlin said.

“They’re very capable in helping us design this project,” he said.

The Rourke Bridge currently has one lane in both directions, and pedestrian access is uncomfortable, to say the least.

The new bridge is expected to have two lanes in both directions, with room for bicycles and pedestrians on each side of the bridge.

Intersections at either end of the bridge will be reconstructed, as well as portions of Wood Street, Pawtucket Boulevard, and Old Ferry Road. The improvements will include geometric changes, new signal systems and roadway widening.

“We’re just getting started,” McLaughlin said of the work in the coming years.

“In the new year, you’ll see a lot of activity,” he added.

There will be an extensive permitting process, an “alphabet soup of permits,” the project manager said.

Once design is completed, there will be an estimated 40-month construction timeframe, or nearly 3.5 years.

“This is a huge step forward for the project,” City Manager Eileen Donoghue said of the designer being selected.

Councilor Rodney Elliott said the city has been waiting a very long time for this project.

He pointed out that the bridge is deemed safe, but many people across the city don’t feel it’s safe. The 8.5-year timeline gives Elliott “a little pause for concern,” he said.

In response, the project manager said the state is maintaining it.

“It is safe to travel over,” McLaughlin said.

Councilor Edward Kennedy emphasized how many residents thought the project would never happen.

“At least we’re moving forward with it, and I hope it won’t get too much more expensive,” Kennedy said.

Councilor Rita Mercier said she’s not optimistic she’ll be around for the ribbon cutting in about a decade.

“I’m concerned because I thought I could see this new bridge in my lifetime. I guess the answer is no,” Mercier said, leading to chuckling in the chamber.

Councilor Dave Conway also said he’s not sure he’ll be present for the opening.

Kennedy encouraged them to “hang in there,” resulting in laughter.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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