RUMFORD — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told a group of selectmen and Maine Department of Transportation staff Thursday morning that she will do all she can to get federal funds to replace the Martin Memorial Bridge.
“This bridge is the state's No. 1 priority,” she said as she and MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt walked the rusted, three-span, steel-trussed bridge over the Androscoggin River. The bridge is 57 years old.
Collins she is the ranking member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee and has been successful in getting millions of dollars under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery federal fund for state transportation projects.
The state hopes to get $5.2 million toward the $9.3 million project. The state will fund the rest.
Collins advised that competition for the $500 million available is intense. She said 703 applications have been submitted for the 46 projects that will be funded.
MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the state will know next month if the local project is funded. If successful, construction could start next year, with a completion of 2015.
Bernhardt said much of the deterioration can't be seen because it is under the deck.
“It's much more cost effective to replace the bridge than it would be to rehabilitate it,” he said. “We don't want to wait for a crisis.”
Collins said she plans to advocate for the federal funding next week in Washington.
“I can always be a better advocate when I see the project,” she said.
About 1,700 vehicles a day cross the bridge, with 16 percent of them fully loaded tractor-trailer trucks.
“This bridge is very important to the mill (NewPage Corp.),” she said.
The new bridge would be built about 600 feet upstream, Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia said. He said the MDOT also would complete a variety of safety improvements at the intersection of the new bridge and Route 2, including the installation of additional signs and a reduction in allowable speed.
During construction, the old bridge will remain open so a 31-mile detour will not be needed, Bernhardt said.
The new bridge would be wider and include a sidewalk, as well.