RUMFORD – More than 50 residents gathered at the new Martin Memorial Bridge on Tuesday morning to watch U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Town Manager John Madigan and state highway Commissioner David Bernhardt officially open it to the public.

In June 2012, Collins, the senior Republican on the U.S. Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $5.2 million grant to help replace the 57-year-old Martin Memorial Bridge, which had been classified as “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration.

Under a clear, blue sky and facing a number of residents and workers who helped construct the bridge, Collins congratulated the town and lauded Richmond contractors Wyman & Simpson.

“Wyman and Simpson built this bridge under extremely challenging weather conditions, but finished ahead of schedule,” Collins said to applause from the crowd.

“I toured the bridge with the commissioner and other town leaders in 2012, and it was clear that the bridge had to be replaced,” she said. “Employers (of the River Valley) told me that this crossing was critical for efficient transportation.”

Collins said one-third of the pulp wood and chips used at the Catalyst mill in Rumford are sourced “south of the Androscoggin River.”

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“The loss of this bridge and crossing would have increased travel distances for people and businesses by more than 5.5 million miles a year, and increased travel costs by more than $4 million,” she said. “When you add that to the safety concerns of the old bridge, it was obvious what must be done.”

Collins said the purposes of rehabilitating the state’s infrastructure were to “stimulate economic growth and jobs, and to increase public safety.”

“The first is a goal of our government, and the second is an obligation,” she said. “The new Martin Memorial Bridge is a perfect example of striving toward that goal and meeting that obligation. The old bridge and the new bridge demonstrate a spirit that defines our state: The spirit of people joining together to get things done.”

Madigan said it’s the third bridge built at Rumford Point.

“The first bridge was built in 1830, but it was taken out during a flood in 1839,” he said. “After that, crossings were done by a ferry service. The ferry was responsible for crossings for quite awhile, until 1955, when the old Martin Memorial Bridge was constructed.”

“The first bridge that was built lasted nine years,” Madigan said. “The second bridge lasted 60 years. Let’s hope this one lasts over 100 years.”

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Bernhardt said the bridge is 500 feet long and 32 feet wide, which should “prevent cars passing each other in opposite lanes from clipping their mirrors.”

Collins, Madigan and Bernhardt simultaneously cut the ribbon stretched across the bridge. Collins brought a piece of the ribbon to Rumford Point resident Harrison Burns, 83, who worked as an MDOT engineer for 22 years.

Burns, who was selected as Rumford’s Citizen of the Year, was also selected to be the first person to drive a vehicle across the bridge.

With his son, Michael Burns, in the back seat, Burns drove his 1928 Plymouth across the span to applause the entire way.

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