Baker Design Consultants' Barney Baker presented selectmen with a $2,836,828 estimate on a new footbridge Jan. 13. The design was based on board and public feedback on three concept designs – straight, s-shaped, or curved alignments to the bridge – presented last March. Baker was then charged with drafting a cost estimate of the third option: $2,121,012 for base bid items, $323,567 for alternate bid items, $244,458 for 10% contingency and $147,791 in construction engineering.
Baker recapped recent projects beginning with his firm’s structural design check in 2016 which found bracing to be completely compromised and in need of replacement; and the deck, substandard. “We called the bridge 'structurally deficient.'”
The following renovations made the bridge safe for use, but did little to prevent damage from tide surges and storm-of-the-century weather, said Baker; the current load rating is 50 pounds per square foot; design guides suggest a minimum of 90 to 100 pounds. Baker said replacing rather than renovating the bridge is mostly due to the defunct swing-span allowing boats access to the head of the harbor and the 2017 resiliency study which highlighted the the inner harbor sensitive structures in the long-term sea level rise. Baker said modern bridges are good for 60 to 80 years on average, so it makes sense to consider projected sea level rise, especially with Maine Department of Transportation incorporating that into its bridge models. Not adhering to the new standard may also affect funding matches, added Baker.
Selectman Ken Fitch was one of several who expressed concern over the proposed curved alignment. “If I were to walk into this room tonight wearing a tuxedo with a top hat, tails and a cane, you'd all look at me as if I was crazy. Why? It's situationally incongruous. The tuxedo could be the best class of tuxedo, the finest made, but it doesn't fit the setting.”
Boothbay Harbor has an authenticity as a working town with a working waterfront with the footbridge at its center, said Fitch. Separating the footbridge from the bridge house is unthinkable and the town should not be disassembling something critical to its identity, he continued.
One of the reasons the firm chose the curved concept is it brings the bridge further away from the bridge house, said Baker. The second reason it was chosen is the design allows construction while the original bridge is kept in service. Baker said while change is hard to accept, the footbridge house is also too low. “It doesn't meet your flood hazard development ordinance. If it's ever damaged or replaced, by law it would have to go up significantly … The right thing to do is to raise both structures, push them up in tandem. What we tried to do is separate the two so pushing the bridge up is not an impediment on the footbridge house.”
Selectman Wendy Wolf noted the footbridge design rose out of the shoreland and flood resiliency study, the bridge's instability and the likelihood of further storm damage. Plans to replace the footbridge go back three years, Wolf said, and the select board strove to include the public and seek feedback with every update.
Said Wolf, “Construction costs are going up every single year which is one reason that the footbridge now is over $2 million … I don't think you should rush just merely to get a decision made, but there are other mitigating factors we need to think about and we need to be good stewards of public taxpayer dollars. When we put off decisions, we are facing higher costs the longer this is delayed year after year.”
Chair Tricia Warren and Selectman Denise Griffin agreed with Wolf. Said Warren, “For me, whether it's curved or straight … it does have to be raised in order to meet that requirement.”
Wolf said her main concern is with the timeline which puts a crunch on the board to make a quick decision when a sooner meeting could have given enough time to poll the public. Baker admitted his firm should have been quicker on the estimates, but with the town’s best interests in mind, the difference between this meeting and last is a significant design effort and an estimate labored over for accuracy.
Baker said there are also several code and compliance issues with the handrails and utilities leading to the bridge house; those are not flood-proofed. The proposed bridge also increases the bridge’s width from seven feet wide to 10 feet and incorporates rails up to 54 inches for possible bicycle traffic, but selectmen and members of the audience felt the rails should be lowered and biking prohibited as current rules dictate.
Resident Bill Hamblen suggested that to save money selectmen may want to consider having Baker lower the hand rail and narrow the bridge to something between the seven feet and proposed 10 feet. “Make it a considered decision, not accidental.”
Fitch reiterated the town needs to take its time to make the right decision and consider renovations that improve safety while keeping the bridge intact as is. “I am always wary about someone saying we have to move quickly because we've been at this for so long … Sometimes we have something for this long because it's complicated and it needs to be taken seriously, carefully …”
Read our previous coverage to follow the footbridge replacement more closely: ‘Footbridge Closed for Safety Concerns’; ‘Footbridge closure discussion spans most of selectmen’s meeting’; ‘Temporary repair to footbridge in sight’; ‘Footbridge contractor chosen, Question One town response considered’; ‘Phase I work starts on footbridge’; ‘Elections, $250K footbridge repair question ahead for Boothbay Harbor voters’; ‘Boothbay Harbor coastal resiliency update’; ‘Public info sought about footbridge’; ‘Fish Pier, footbridge update gets board’s attention’