ISLESBORO, Maine — Work on a Maine State Ferry Service project that will require shutting down vehicle access to the island for a month this fall will enter its initial stage this week.
The $6 million project will involve replacement of the transfer bridges at ferry terminals in Lincolnville Beach and Islesboro. To accomplish that, ferry service will be shut down for about four weeks beginning Sept. 28. The shutdown will be a major inconvenience for island residents, but one they are resigned to deal with.
“Obviously, we’re elated that the state is going to fix the ramps. They’ve been in poor shape for a while and there was concern that we would be faced with weight limits, which would upset the island,” Town Manager Marnie Diffen said last week. “This is a well-planned, methodical affair and the island is prepared for it.”
Paul Pottle, manager of the Department of Transportation’s multimodal program, said the project has been on the drawing board for years. He said the DOT and island officials conducted a series of briefings over the past year and a half detailing the scope of the project and the need to shut down ferry service to get it done.
He said DOT looked at keeping the existing facilities open and building new bridges and ferry terminals on other sites on the mainland and island but the money for such a project was not available. He estimated it would have cost more than $12 million to build new terminals.
The existing transfer bridges are more than 50 years old.
“They’ve gone beyond their useful life,” Pottle said. “To do nothing, the bridges will fail and we will be forced into an emergency situation.”
Cianbro Corp. was awarded the contract to replace the transfer bridges and is already in the process of fabricating two 80-foot-long, 14-foot-wide bridges at its Pittsfield site. Once completed, the bridges will be placed on barges and floated to Islesboro and Lincolnville Beach. The bridges will be lifted into place with a 200-ton crane. Both will be installed during the same four-week period. A similar method was used a few years ago when the state replaced bridges at Bass Harbor and Swan’s Island.
“We’ll do both at the same time — take the old ones out and put the new ones in,” Pottle said. “The crews will go back and forth, each having different jobs at different times. It’s a real balancing act. Some work will be done at both sites simultaneously, some will be jumping back and forth. … We did this successfully before without any incidents.”
The company will start preparing both sites this week, Pottle said. Work will be done on the existing in-water structures that were installed in 1989 to accommodate the larger Margaret Chase Smith ferry when it replaced the Governor Muskie. He said crews would be at both terminals throughout the spring and summer preparing the sites for the new bridges.
As for getting back and forth to the island, the state is seeking bids from private carriers that could handle passengers during the four weeks the ferry is out of service. He said the DOT hopes to contract with a covered, shallow draft vessel capable of carrying 50 to 100 passengers.
With the ferry shut down beginning Sept. 28, island residents who want to leave a car on the mainland will have access to the terminal parking lot in Lincolnville Beach and additional locations, Pottle said.
Vehicle traffic to the island will be suspended during that period except for some limited trips on a private ferry. Pottle said food and fuel deliveries would be allowed, as well as removal of solid waste. He said a special unloading area would be established for the private ferry.
Pottle said ambulance calls and medical emergencies that normally use the ferry will be handled by the private passenger vessel or LifeFlight helicopter if necessary. He said there were financial incentives for Cianbro to complete the project on schedule and expressed confidence that island residents would be able to handle the situation.
“It’s a hard reality to accept but it’s one that everyone is trying to work around,” Pottle said of the project. “People will definitely be inconvenienced, but they won’t be totally locked on or off the island.”