PROSPECT (AP) – Tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks could be banned forever from the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, according to state officials.

Officials announced Friday that vehicles weighing 12 tons or more are prohibited from crossing the 72-year-old bridge because of concerns about the safety of the suspension cables.

Trucks that now use the span to cross the Penobscot River from Prospect to Verona must travel 40 miles to cross the river in Bangor.

Concerned officials from communities on both sides of the river questioned Bruce Van Note, Maine Department of Transportation deputy commissioner, about what the state is doing to address the problem.

Van Note said the department is looking at using other types of bridges should the Waldo-Hancock Bridge not be repairable. He said he couldn’t guarantee the bridge wouldn’t be shut down to all traffic, and that ferry service is being considered if that happens.

Van Note said he is fully aware of the adverse economic impacts of the truck ban, but that safety comes first.

“We don’t make this decision lightly,” Van Note said.

Dave Milan, Bucksport’s economic development director, said he has talked to state officials since the truck ban took effect Friday and doesn’t think the bridge will shut down completely.

“It’s going to be a long time, if ever, before truck traffic is ever allowed back on the bridge,” he said.

Van Note said approximately 10,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, and as many as 15,000 use it each day in the summer season.

Based on Van Note’s estimate that heavy trucks make up 8 percent of the number of vehicles on the road, 800 heavy trucks that typically cross the bridge each day will have to find an alternative route.

“We understand the impact that has on trucking companies,” Van Note said. “I tell you, it is a more comfortable feeling (on the bridge) with the trucks off it.”

Gov. John Baldacci was in Prospect Saturday with Transportation Commissioner David Cole to “get a firsthand look at the bridge,” said Baldacci spokesman Lee Umphrey.

“He believes that is the right thing to do,” Umphrey said of Baldacci’s support of the truck ban. “There is a consensus that (the ban) was necessary.”

Maine State Police troopers were stationed at both ends of the bridge Saturday to make sure heavy trucks did not cross the bridge. A typical passenger car weighs between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds, Van Note said.

State employees have been stationed on the bridge to listen for cracking sounds in the bridge’s two major cables, each of which consists of 1,369 wire strands, Van Note said.

Van Note said more bridge engineering specialists would be brought to Maine to examine the structure and help reach a determination on what the span’s weight limit should be.

The state also hopes to have electronic listening devices in place soon to monitor the bridge for further deterioration, he said.

AP-ES-07-14-03 0216EDT

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