Woolwich bridge project brings concerns

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 8:45am

Woolwich residents were promised Dec. 11, every effort will be made to keep Route 1 traffic moving during construction or reconstruction of the Station 46 bridge. The estimated $30 million project north of the Taste of the Maine Restaurant is expected to start in fall 2021.

About two dozen people crowded into the municipal building’s second floor hearing room to hear Maine Department of Transportation’s plans to replace or rehabilitate the 86-year-old bridge an estimated 19,000 motorists use a day. The meeting was to get initial input from the Woolwich community.

Tim Cote of HNTB Corp., a Westbrook infrastructure design firm assisting the state, said the state was still evaluating the project and hadn’t ruled out rehabilitating the bridge. The last inspection found the bridge structurally deficient and needing significant repairs. Pictures projected of the bridge’s girders showed large areas of rust and corrosion in the steel support structure.

“This doesn’t mean the bridge is unsafe for traffic but the damage needs to be addressed,” he said.

Another problem is a section of the bridge is near railroad tracks. A train derailment here could cause significant damage, added Cote. The state estimates the rehabilitation will extend the bridge’s lifespan another 25 years.

If the state decides to build a new bridge, it would be higher and wider with fewer spans and concrete piers, Cote said. Construction would be challenging because the area is marshy. The state must also decide whether to build on the east or west side of the current structure, or build on the site of the present bridge. A new bridge will have a life expectancy of 100 years.

“Building it on alignment (where the bridge is now) will mean relying on a temporary structure to keep traffic moving,” he explained.

Either option would take 24 months.

“Based on tonight’s feedback, we’ll develop conceptual designs,” continued Cote. A formal public hearing won’t be held until May 2020 with the final design finished by July 2021.

Whichever option was chosen, Cote said every effort would be made to keep Route 1 traffic moving in both the north and southbound lanes.

RSU 1 school board member Jennifer Ritch-Smith asked if Maine DOT was aware there was a school bus stop at the south end of the bridge. Eaton said he was not adding that was the kind of local information the planners needed.

“We’re concerned about the impact construction will have on the businesses downtown, the Taste of Maine Restaurant in particular,” commented Selectman Jason Shaw. “The select board and road commissioner are also uneasy about motorists using our local roads.”

Eaton promised MDOT work will with town officials throughout the project.

Sue Ellen Whittaker said traffic on Route 127 where she lives is already dangerous. “Even more people will be using it during construction,” she said. MDOT Project Engineer Devan Eaton responded, Route 127 is a longer way around. He said the state wanted to keep motorists on Route 1.

Several people suggested a rumble strip on the center line of the bridge to improve safety.

Woolwich Fire Chief Mike Demers told Eaton over the last three years the fire and EMS departments had responded to 17 accidents on or near the Station 46 bridge. The speed limit on the bridge starts at 35 mph but increases to 55 in the northbound lane.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry was concerned with safety, as well. He strongly encouraged the state not to shorten the turning lane into Taste of Maine Restaurant. “We’ve only had a few accidents there since the road was re-striped,” he said.

Bicyclists were glad to hear a new bridge would be wider with bicycle lanes. They hoped the state could keep the bridge open to them  during construction.

Mark Lickus from MDOT said the intersection of George Wright Road and Route 1 was still being evaluated. He said no monies have been earmarked for construction there, and it is not a part of the Station 46 bridge project.

Lickus said MDOT was coordinating with Kennebec Estuary Land Trust as part of the Back River Creek Resilience Restoration Project.