SEARSPORT (AP) – The state Department of Transportation launched a series of radio ads Thursday to inform motorists they can still drive across the Waldo-Hancock Bridge.

The state on July 11 banned vehicles weighing more than 12 tons from the bridge, which spans the Penobscot River between the towns of Prospect and Verona.

Trucks that now use the bridge must travel 40 miles to cross the river between Bangor and Brewer.

Area business owners dependent on summer traffic are concerned that information put out by the department has diverted tourists – in addition to trucks, buses and large recreational vehicles – away from the bridge.

Transportation Commissioner David Cole and other officials met Wednesday at a local campground with about 70 business owners and regional tourism representatives to outline steps the department intends to take to respond to those concerns.

“We’re going to roll out some ideas today that, hopefully, will make the situation better for everyone,” Cole said.

The department has allocated $10,000 a week to run up to 90 radio spots on four stations – two in Portland and two regional outlets – to inform the public that the bridge is open.

The ads, which feature Maine humorist Tim Sample, are designed to be creative and attention-getting, according to Greg Nadeau, who heads the department’s Office of Policy and Communication.

He said the ads will put to rest rumors that the bridge is closed to all traffic and “in a clever way, will invite everyone to take the scenic route to Down East Maine.”

“The message is that you can get there from here,” Nadeau said.

Several business owners urged the department to run the spots on other radio stations to alert travelers already in the region, and to ease concerns and provide accurate information to local residents.

Carl Eppig of Searsport, representing the Waldo County Marketing Association, said most tourists will get their information from the innkeepers, campground owners, clerks and shopkeepers they meet every day.

“There’s a level of fear among local people,” he said. “You need to take out ads on every station between Rockland and Ellsworth. You need to get the word out that it is safe to drive across that bridge.”

The department also has established a Waldo-Hancock Bridge Web site that state officials said will be running by Monday.

The department also plans to amend the signs it has put up leading to the bridge to make it clear that the bridge restrictions apply to trucks, buses and other vehicles that exceed 24,000 pounds.

On the Net:

Department of Transportation:

AP-ES-07-24-03 1026EDT

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