NEWPORT, Maine — Friendly warnings will turn to strict citations Monday for truckers and motorists trying to avoid a bridge reconstruction project near what is known by some as the crossroads of central Maine.
It’s no secret to locals that the intersection of Routes 7 and 2 in Newport is busy, but even people familiar with the area have had a hard time adjusting to the new traffic patterns, which include new stop signs in some places where there were none before. Near-chaos ensued in the first days of the project, particularly for heavy-vehicle traffic that is supposed to avoid the downtown altogether. Newport Police Chief Leonard Macdaid said Friday that motorists were growing accustomed to the changes but that after a grace period of a few days, a zero-tolerance policy would be put into place as of Monday.
“People should be getting used to the detours by now, so we’re going to crack down,” said Macdaid. “There are detour signs on every road coming into Newport. There’s no excuse for a tractor-trailer to come into the downtown.”
To help motorists, the Maine Department of Transportation this week added flashing electronic message boards to supplement an extensive array of orange signs.
The detour around a bridge project on Route 2 in downtown Newport is quick for motorists who can step around the construction zone on a few sidestreets, but it takes trucks weighing more than 69,000 pounds on an 18-mile route across secondary roads in three towns, which is approximately twice the distance of staying on Route 2. Coming from the west, the detour involves Route 7 to Corinna, Route 222 and then Route 143 to its intersection with Route 2 in Etna. Coming from the east, that route is reversed.
Michelle Boone, who is the MDOT project resident for the bridge replacement, said the original detour plan would have routed trucks to Interstate 95, but that plan was scrapped late last year when a pilot program that allowed 100,000-pound trucks on the interstate expired.
The aging bridge is being replaced at a cost of about $1.7 million. Crews from CPM Construction, which has several offices in Maine, will work five days a week as long as the project stays on schedule, with the goal of completing the project by Labor Day. On Friday, workers had already torn out one of the bridge’s spans.
Boone, who is familiar with the Newport area after having worked there for years, said traffic counts from 2008 showed that Route 2 in downtown Newport handles an average of about 8,400 vehicles per day.
“That number didn’t really come as much of a surprise to me, but I didn’t realize how much traffic there really is until we closed that bridge,” said Boone.