Four lanes of traffic across the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge will be reduced to two lanes once work is finished on the bridge spans the Androscoggin River and connects the Twin Cities. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Residents will soon be able to loosen their grip on the steering wheel — and pedestrians will breathe easier, too — while traversing the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge that connects the Twin Cities.

A $6 million rehabilitation of the bridge, with its rusting green paint, will reduce traffic to two travel lanes, making room for bike lanes while creating a buffer for pedestrians.

The 40-foot-wide bridge has four travel lanes, which, at 10 feet each, cause a claustrophobic rush across the heavily traveled span. State transportation officials said the project will go out to bid this year, and work will include steel and joint repairs, paint and resurfacing.

According to Lewiston Public Works Director David Jones, motorists already tend to stagger their travel along the bridge because of the narrow lanes.

“It really hasn’t been used like a four-lane bridge for years,” he said. “It’s striped that way but not really used that way.”

The bridge repairs will be paid for by the Maine Department of Transportation, which lists the bridge rehab among its projects for 2017, with an estimated $5.7 million in funding.

A public meeting was held Feb. 23 at Auburn Hall to discuss the project, where officials from both cities attended.

Joel Kittredge, MDOT project manager, said the project is scheduled to advertise in December, with the start of construction in spring 2018.

According to the MDOT presentation on the project, the 723-foot-long bridge was built in 1936, and received a repair to one of three piers in 1995 and a deck replacement in 1996. It was also formerly known as the South Bridge.

Kittredge said those attending previous meetings were in favor of the two-lane design, because “the narrowness of the present lanes does not allow the bridge to function as four lanes.”

He said traffic engineers evaluated the use, traffic volumes, and projected traffic growth and determined that two lanes will accommodate traffic requirements. The overhaul will increase the lane widths to 11 feet, while creating 3-foot buffer lanes and a 5-foot shoulder.

However, it will take some time to complete, and require shifting some lanes for traffic throughout the project. The work will take place over two construction seasons, he said, with the first focusing on structural repairs and the bridge surface.

The second phase will consist of repainting the entire bridge. He said large trucks could be detoured for short periods.

The concept design for the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge rehab depicts the proposed two-lane system and designated bike lanes. (Submitted photo)

Along with the bridge work, Jones said, MDOT will also continue the project into Lewiston on Cedar Street, where the road will also be reduced to a three-lane system designed to be more pedestrian-friendly. There will be one lane in each direction, with a center turning lane.

Jones said the work will impact Cedar Street up to Lincoln Street, where it will open back up to two lanes in each direction. He said the city had been planning improvements to the stretch coming off the bridge and was able to combine it with the MDOT project.

He said the stretch may also include pedestrian refuge islands and continue the bike lane stemming from the bridge. He said some city funds will be required, but the majority of the funding will come from the state.

“It will be a great improvement, I think,” he said.

The project was designed at a time when Lewiston is grappling with pedestrian safety issues. The City Council discussed a report Tuesday that officials hope will shape future projects and planning to make intersections safer.

Kittredge said officials from both cities have reviewed the plan and “agree that the proposed configuration enhances bicycle and pedestrian usage in the affected and surrounding area.”

It also coincides with work underway by the Lewiston-Auburn Bike-Ped Committee, whose “complete streets” policy is being further implemented in both Lewiston and Auburn. The policy is used by both cities to promote a transportation system that works for all people, not just motorists.

Last week, Auburn held a first reading on a measure to both adopt the complete streets policy as an official ordinance while also creating a specific committee to oversee it.

Craig Saddlemire, chairman of the the Lewiston-Auburn Bike-Ped Committee, said Lewiston conducted a study that recommended the safety improvements for the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge. He said the project goes hand-in-hand with the kinds of changes the committee has been advocating.

“It should simplify the traffic pattern, reduce points of conflict for motor vehicles, and provide more clearly marked space for motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists,” he said in an email. “As it exists today, cars will rarely drive side by side on that bridge because it is so tight. The planner who conducted the study observed cars almost drive single file across the bridge, even if they are spread out over different lanes. It is an improvement we have been hoping to implement for a long time, and it is consistent with the complete streets policy.”

Jones said there may be some preliminary work on the bridge abutments and substructure occurring this fall. The most visible work, including pavement, re-striping and painting the entire truss will take place in 2018.

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