When frequent problems with the railroad drawbridge between Beverly and Salem delayed thousands of Cape Ann and North Shore commuters in 2008, MBTA officials and local politicians gathered on the bridge to announce that a "permanent fix" would be complete by that summer.
Nearly three years later, the work is still not finished.
The major component of the repairs, a $1 million hydraulic system that will replace the bridge's antiquated gear mechanism, is still in the design phase. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the design work has been slowed by changes in project management due to retirements and transfers.
The repair delays have led to more headaches for train riders in recent weeks. The bridge got stuck in the open position for an hour during the evening commute Jan. 19 and for nearly four hours during the morning commute this past Monday.
Riders were forced to get off their trains and take buses between Beverly and Salem. An estimated 17,000 people ride trains across the bridge every day, according to the MBTA, and riders who board or exit the trains in Rockport, Gloucester, West Gloucester and Manchester all pass across the bridge.
Pesaturo said repairs to the bridge have been ongoing since the MBTA's 2008 announcement.
First, the bridge had to be stabilized, he said. Last summer, MBTA ironworkers and machinists worked "around the clock" to build and install a new gear box after the bridge's main drive failed, he said.
Work has been stopped for the winter and is scheduled to start up again when the weather improves, Pesaturo said.
Pesaturo said the design of the new hydraulic system is almost done and the money for the project, up to $1.6 million, has been authorized by the MBTA's Board of Directors.
A spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which has a contract with the MBTA to operate the commuter rail system and maintain the trains, tracks and bridges, said the company expects to put out bids for the project in the spring. The work should be done this year, spokesman Scott Farmelant said.
While the repairs will proceed, however, Pesaturo said the MBTA has also hired a consultant to design plans for a new bridge. It calls for replacing most of the major components of the existing bridge and possibly refurbishing some of the current parts.
The design is 60 percent complete and should be finished by the end of the year, said Pesaturo. The estimated cost of the project is $14 million.
If the MBTA board approves the funding, Pesaturo said the project could be put out to bid in 2012.
The drawbridge was built in 1887. Parts of it were destroyed by a fire in 1984, but many of the original components remained.
The bridge swings open to allow boats on the Danvers River to pass through. Maritime law gives boats priority, so the bridge must be opened when large boats need to pass.