Mariners on the Annisquam River next month will have to accommodate two more work projects in addition to the ongoing U.S. Army Corps dredging work to return the federal passage to full navigability.

On Feb. 3, the MBTA, in coordination with the Coast Guard and Gloucester Harbormaster office, will institute a temporary, full-channel closure on both sides of the Commuter Rail bridge to perform underwater work near the base of the span.

Later in the month, on Feb. 24, the state Department of Transportation is scheduled to take the Blynman Bridge out of service as a drawbridge to perform structural repairs on the 112-year-old span. MassDOT said it expects the $750,000 repair project to run through April 10.

The bridge, known locally as the Cut bridge, will stay in the closed position until the work is completed.

Commuter Rail bridge project

The full-channel closure of the MBTA Commuter Rail bridge is expected to last about two weeks barring unforeseen circumstance or severe weather.

"A temporary channel closure is necessary to allow dredging work so that crew can bury power cables underground in the channel," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in response to an email requesting specifics on the project. "These cables are critical to ensuring the safe and reliable operation of the new drawbridge."

Gloucester Harbormaster T. J. Ciarametaro said the full-channel closure will block all northbound and southbound marine traffic beneath the 109-year-old railroad bridge that connects West Gloucester to Gloucester proper.

Ciarametaro said river traffic will be halted about 500 feet away from both sides of the drawbridge which was identified in a 2011 safety study as being in the worst structural condition of any bridge within the MBTA system.

"We'll have a detail boat on the river to make sure everybody understands what's going on with the channel closure," he said.

The state Department of Transportation is in the midst of a four-year, $80 million project to replace the railroad drawbridge. The work, scheduled to be completed in 2022, has included the demolition of the old timber trestle on the southern side of the bridge that underwent significant reconstruction in 1932 and in the 1980s.

According to MassDOT, the new MBTA Commuter Rail drawbridge will include side-by-side movable bridges, an updated east approach trestle and a relocated control tower on the Gloucester station side of the bridge.

Blynman Bridge project

MassDOT said the work on the Blynman Bridge, similar to repairs that closed the Blynman Channel to marine traffic last year from Feb. 18 through April 6, primarily will repair several portions of worn out "structural steel elements" in the bascule spans.

"A gangway will be placed across the navigable channel," MassDOT said. "Due to the nature of the repairs, opening the spans during construction is not possible. Therefore the bridge must be left in the closed position for the duration of the repairs."

Access on Western Avenue will remain open to vehicular traffic from both directions, though at times traffic may be reduced to one lane. The north sidewalk will be closed to pedestrian traffic until the repairs are completed, but pedestrians will be able to cross the bridge on the south sidewalk closest to the harbor seawall. 

It also will remain open to any marine traffic able to fit beneath the work gangway that will be installed over the channel that connects Gloucester Harbor to the Annisquam River.

MassDOT, according to an agency spokeswoman, initially sought to close the Blynman drawbridge from Feb. 10 through April 10.

"However, when the Coast Guard began their review, they found that the work on the MBTA drawbridge over the Annisquam River and the dredging in the Annisquam River required that boats and barges be provided with passage through the Blynman drawbridge through Feb. 23," spokeswoman Kristen Pennucci said in an email response.

The Blynman Bridge is one of the busiest drawbridges managed by MassDOT. On average, it opens more than 7,300 times a year. Last year, one of its busiest years, it opened 8,668 times.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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