$10.8 million from feds to allow replacement of Maine bridge

Posted Dec. 12, 2011, at 5:43 p.m.

DRESDEN, Maine — A project that transportation officials said was a nonstarter without federal grant funding will move forward after the announcement Monday that the replacement of the Maine Kennebec Bridge received a $10.8 million boost.

The total cost of replacing the bridge, which spans the Kennebec River on Route 197 between Richmond and Dresden, is estimated at $25 million. The Maine Department of Transportation will pick up the cost not covered by the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding with a few million dollars left over from a previous federal grant and money from its capital budget.

“This is an important project that has been a very high priority,” said Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt, who credited U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, for helping push Maine’s application through.

The 1931-era bridge, which handles more than 3,000 vehicles a day and is built to swing out of the way for tall vessels navigating the river, is in a severe state of decay. The rusting green structure is classified by the Federal Highway Administration as structurally deficient, with five of its spans rated as “fracture critical.” That means the failure of certain parts of the bridge could result in a collapse, though Bernhardt has stressed the structure is still well able to carry vehicles weighing up to 100,000 pounds.

Collins visited the bridge earlier this month.

“I was truly alarmed to see firsthand the deteriorated condition of the Richmond-Dresden Bridge,” said Collins in a press release. “It is an understatement to say that the time has come to replace and modernize this 80-year-old bridge, which is a critically important transportation link in this area.”

Collins said during her visit that the fact Maine will pick up at least half the cost of the bridge drastically improved Maine’s chances of securing the TIGER grant. The U.S. Department of Transportation cleared the way for the grant Monday, which means no other congressional approvals are necessary.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, also lauded the state’s receipt of the TIGER grant.

“This is great news for the state and the thousands of drivers who cross that bridge every day,” said Pingree in a press release. “With crumbling concrete supports and rusting girders, there’s no doubt that this bridge needs to be replaced. With competition so fierce for these funds, it’s a relief that this federal investment will protect an important piece of infrastructure and put Maine people to work.”

Maine Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, called Monday’s announcement “great news for the communities of Richmond and Dresden and the entire state.”

“Thanks to the time and effort put forth by Senator Collins and Congresswoman Pingree, our communities will benefit from this critical investment of state and federal dollars to our infrastructure,” he said in a press release. “This is a key investment to our local economy, one that will create jobs for Maine people and improve the safety of an important road in the region.”

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, agreed, according to his blog.

“I applaud the administration’s decision as well as the efforts of our congressional delegation and Maine Department of Transportation,” wrote Berry. “Since the Legislature decided last spring to cut funding for roads and bridges in the coming years, we are now more dependent than ever on federal assistance of this kind.”

Bernhardt has said the DOT will gather construction proposals in the spring with an estimated two-year project to begin in 2013. According to the DOT’s application for the grant, the plan is to build the new bridge adjacent to the old one and high enough so that vessels such as Coast Guard cutters can go underneath it. Local officials have expressed concern that the plan could affect the location of nearby houses, but Bernhardt said that is by no means certain because the project has yet to be designed.

Bernhardt said the new bridge will be constructed before the old one is torn down to minimize impact on traffic flow.

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