WOOLWICH — The 86-year-old Route 1 bridge in Woolwich needs to be replaced, and residents said during a meeting Wednesday night they want safety for drivers and cyclists at the forefront of the plans for the new bridge.

An average of 19,000 vehicles per day use the bridge, according to Eaton.

In the past three years, Woolwich’s fire and rescue department responded to 17 calls, three of which were fatal, between the Taste of Maine Restaurant and where Route 1 intersects with George Wright Road, according to Mike Demers, Woowich’s fire chief.

Demers said he believes speed is a factor in most accidents, as the speed limit changes from 35 to 55 miles per hour on the bridge, and turning onto Route 1 from George Wright Road can be challenging for drivers because the curve in the road can lead to reduced visibility.

“(The bridge) is like our Bermuda Triangle,” said Demers at a public meeting with DOT representatives Wednesday.

Several people also called for adequate bike lanes on the new bridge.

“There are some of us who like the commute by bicycle,” said Elswyth Strassberger. “(The bike lanes) need to have, at a minimum, 5 feet of operable space.”

When the bridge, just north of the Taste of Maine Restaurant, was built in 1939 it was made with steel and expected to last approximately 75 years. Eighty-six years later, bridges are typically made with a combination of concrete and steel, according to Devan Eaton, DOT project manager. The bridge was widened in 1957 and 1977.

The DOT determined the bridge needs to be replaced after the structural soundness of the bridge was given a rating of four on a one-to-nine scale in a 2017 evaluation.

Eaton said the bridge is still safe to drive on, but the materials are outdated.

The DOT has several options to choose from, most of which involve replacing the bridge in stages, which would take anywhere between 18 to 36 months depending on the replacement method the DOT chooses. A new bridge is expected to last 100 years, according to the DOT.

The department also has the option of repairing the existing bridge, which would give the structure an added life of 25 years.

“At this point, we’re very early in the stages of development of the project,” said Tim Cote, associate vice president of HNTB, an infrastructure design firm. “We haven’t figured out what we want to build or how it’s going to be built.”

Cote said the design for the project is expected to be completed in April.

According to the DOT’s project report, “If the project is not completed the bridge will continue to deteriorate and the safety issues will intensify. At its current rate of deterioration, it is forecasted the bridge will need to be permanently closed within the next 10 years.”

The MDOT also faces challenges posed by the bridge’s environment. The nearby saltwater is corrosive and accelerates the rusting process, and the bridge was built on marine clay, which is softer and more difficult to build on than rock or firmer soil.

It’s estimated the project will cost $30 million, which will be partially funded by a federal program. Eaton said construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2021 and finish in two to three years depending on how the bridge is rebuilt or repaired.

Last month, Sen. Susan Collins, chairwoman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced Maine will receive a total of $44.6 million to fund two transportation projects, one of which is the bridge placement project in Woolwich. According to a statement from Collins, $25 million will go toward replacing the Route 1 bridge.

In September, Woolwich Select Board Chairman David King Sr. said he’s looking forward to having the project done but is concerned about the impacts on the already congested Route 1 traffic.

“(The board’s) fear is, depending on how they do it, they’ll back up traffic and people will start using the side roads in Woolwich,” said King. “If they only leave one lane open for traffic, the traffic will back all the way up to Cook’s Corner. The roads around here were never designed for the traffic it has now.”

The Route 1 bridge has one lane of traffic traveling in each direction, as well as a center turning lane. Eaton said he does not want to divert Route 1 traffic onto smaller backroads.

“Our plan of attack is to maintain traffic on site,” said Eaton. “We don’t want to put Route 1 traffic anywhere but Route 1.”

According to the DOT the average trip length of a bridge user would increase by nearly 14 miles and more than 17 minutes if detours were put in place during construction.

“All options we’re looking at will maintain traffic on site,” said Cote.

Cote said the DOT will hold a second meeting for Woolwich residents in May to present a recommended replacement or rehabilitation plan for the bridge and ask for additional feedback from residents.


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