The only vehicle bridge with access to Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston is the Beech Street bridge, background, that is scheduled to be replaced. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — It doesn’t look like much, but the rusty, single-lane Beech Street bridge plays an important role near the city’s riverfront.

The 53-foot-long bridge over the canal along Oxford Street is the only way for vehicles to get to Simard-Payne Memorial Park, and after years of neglect it will finally be replaced this spring. 

The cost is estimated at $730,000.

Following years of questions over the bridge’s ownership — which still hasn’t been officially settled — the city is moving ahead with construction that will expand the  bridge to two lanes with a concrete bridge deck and abutments. 

It’s considered an important step for the area, especially as Museum L-A looks to relocate to its property in the former Camden Yarns Mill. 

According to a city news release, the new bridge will be a “prefabricated truss bridge designed to match the former train trestle on the other side of the park, as recommended by the Historic Preservation Review Board.”

Just a few yards down the canal, the pedestrian access to the park is larger than the Beech Street bridge, but is not designed for vehicles. 

According to the city, the work is expected to take place over eight weeks in April and May. During that time vehicles will use the pedestrian bridge to access the park. The new bridge is scheduled to be open by Memorial Day.

“This project is a huge step toward future improvements to Simard-Payne Park, allowing for expanded activities and events,” a news release said. “It also provides proper access for trucks, cars and emergency vehicles to access the mill at 35 Beech St. and the future Museum L-A.  

The bridge will be delivered in pieces, assembled on site, then set in place with a large crane in one piece.  

City Administrator Ed Barrett said Monday that the city has been discussing the need to replace the bridge for many years. Due to its condition, it has been “load limited,” and about six years ago, Barrett said, the city had to do maintenance work just to keep it functional. 

Making it more complicated is that over the years of discussions, no one has claimed ownership of the bridge. 

“We believe it may have been fabricated and installed by one of the companies that once operated on the river side of the canal system; however, all of those companies are no longer in existence,” Barrett said in an email. 

Rachel Desgrosseilliers, executive director of Museum L-A, which plans to redevelop and relocate to the former Camden Yarns Mill, said last week that she’s “thrilled” by the decision to replace the bridge. 

She said that when Museum L-A first acquired the former mill, and conducted demolition and “stabilization” work at the site, the process was made more difficult by the load restrictions on the bridge. 

“It wasn’t an easy feat for us,” she said, referring to construction trucks that couldn’t pass over the bridge with debris.

Museum L-A hopes that the renovation and relocation is part of their three-year master plan. Desgrosseilliers said the project was pushed back initially, but that their building committee is back working on the project. 

She said down the road, the museum will bring in school buses, tour buses and trucks delivering exhibits for the repurposed mill – meaning a functional two-lane bridge will be important.

Barrett said the new bridge will not be load limited, meaning heavier vehicles can access the park, which is especially important during events such as the Dempsey Challenge and the Great Falls Balloon Festival.

“It will also provide safer access for fire and EMS vehicles if necessary,” he said. 

The city is recommending that during construction, pedestrians use the Water Street bridge to enter the park. Oxford Street will be the staging area for the work, so it will remain closed for the construction period between Chestnut Street and just north of Beech Street.  

Beech Street will be closed to through-traffic except for Rails parking access.

Public Works Director Dave Jones said the cost of the bridge and installation is $730,000. 

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