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April 19, 2014

Boaters urged to exercise caution at bridge

NEWBURYPORT — Boaters are being warned that they’ll need to reduce speeds and be extra cautious this summer in the busy navigation channels at the Interstate 95 bridge.

The steel 1951 bridge is being replaced by two new concrete bridges, one of which is quickly starting to rise from the river’s bedrock. Massive foundations have been built in the river to support the bridge, and the waters around it are filled with activity — large barges, tugs, cranes and a variety of small work boats.

Boating season begins in a few weeks, and the state this week issued an advisory to boaters passing through the area. It’s a section of the river that sees heavy boating traffic, particularly on pleasant weekends.

There are two navigation channels at the I-95 bridge. The heavily-used federal channel runs close to the Newburyport shoreline, while the “Steamboat Channel” runs close to the Amesbury shoreline. Between them, in the center of the river under the bridge, there are many rocks, making passage through the center of the river impossible.

On occasion, it’s expected that one of the two channels will be closed due to construction, in which case local harbormasters will be on patrol and will direct traffic. The width of the channels may also be temporarily reduced. Boaters who have questions about the channel are urged to use their marine band radios and call the tug Katahdin on VHF FM channel 16/13.

The pace of work will also increase as the weather gets better, which will have some impact on boaters.

Beginning in mid-May, the contractor will be working two approximately 10-hour shifts. Day shift work hours will be 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Night shift hours will be from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., Sunday through Thursday. A Saturday night shift from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. may be utilized, on an as needed basis.

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