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The Transportation Bond Bill passed by the Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday includes $100 million for the construction of a new four-lane permanent Rourke Bridge in Lowell.
“By providing bond authorization to construct the four-lane permanent bridge at an estimated cost of $100 million, we will guarantee that the construction money will be available as soon as the alignment and design study is completed in 2022,” said Sen. Ed Kennedy.
“The new permanent bridge will have a positive impact on economic development, reduce the traffic congestion on the existing bridges across the Merrimack River, and improve access to Lowell General Hospital,” he added. “Additionally, the new bridge will bring many construction jobs to the Greater Lowell area.”
The current bridge, which honors the public service of former Mayor Raymond Rourke and his son, State Rep. Timothy Rourke, was built in 1983 and opened in October 1985.
The $8 million, two-lane Bailey pony truss bridge that crosses the Merrimack River, connecting the city’s Highlands and Pawtucketville neighborhoods was built as a temporary structure. Today, nearly 40 years later, 28,000 vehicles traverse the aging span daily.
These trips include Lowell residents and residents of surrounding towns including Chelmsford, Dracut, Tyngsboro, and Westford going to work and school; New Hampshire residents coming to Massachusetts to work; UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College students; and people from around the region heading to Lowell General Hospital.
“Rush hour” now lasts nearly all day due to the functional obsolescence of this two-lane temporary bridge. During peak travel periods, the bridge cannot physically accommodate the movement of emergency vehicles, requiring emergency responders to find alternate routes, which increases response times and places patients at undue risk.
The pedestrian “cage” on the western side of the bridge is uninviting and narrow and provides little safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“A permanent, modern structure has been a high priority for the Greater Lowell region for well over two decades,” said Beverly Woods, Executive Director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG), the regional planning organization that conducted a 2013 corridor study and feasibility analysis for a new bridge. “The benefits of replacing the temporary bridge with a modern structure include reduced emergency vehicle response times for patients accessing Lowell General Hospital, improved traffic safety, less traffic congestion, improved air quality, and increased economic development opportunities. The completion of this project will improve the quality of life for thousands of area residents, workers, and visitors.”
In addition to the Rourke Bridge funding, the Transportation Bond Bill includes several amendments filed by Sen. Kennedy for improvements across the First Middlesex District, including:
- $650,000 for paving and reconstruction of the Nashua River Rail Trail in Ayer, Groton, Pepperell, and Dunstable.
- $100,000 for improvements on Route 113 in Dunstable.
- $350,000 for improvements and repairs on Route 119 in Groton.
- $900,000 for multi-modal transportation and safety improvements on Middlesex Road in Tyngsboro.
- $2,085,000 for the rehabilitation of and pedestrian safety improvements to Oak Hill Road in Westford.
- $100,000 for engineering studies for various bridges in Pepperell.
- $3,315,000 for repairs to the Suffolk Street Bridge over the Northern Canal in Lowell.