FORT KENT, Maine — The good news is there will be a new international bridge connecting Fort Kent to Clair, New Brunswick. Cross-border travelers, however, are going to have to wait an additional year to see it.
Originally slated for completion by August 2013, the project has been backed up a full year thanks to delays in the bidding process.
“The original bids were advertised for September 1,  and the departments [of transportation] felt they came in too high,” said Joel Kittredge, project manager with the Maine Department of Transportation.
The bridge is a joint project between the DOT and the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, with NB DOT taking the lead position.
Plans call for the current 730-foot-long steel truss-style bridge to be replaced with a 754-foot concrete bridge nearly 25 feet wider than the existing 20-foot-wide structure.
The new international bridge, expected to carry an $11 million price tag, would be built about 15 feet downriver from the existing bridge.
Officials with the New Brunswick agency did not respond to requests for comments.
According to Kittredge, communications with and questions from potential project bidders led DOT and NB DOT to reopen the bid process in the hopes the extended timeline would allow contractors to submit bids more in line with the existing approved funds.
The new deadline for submitting bids on the bridge construction phase is Feb. 2.
“The money is there for the construction,” Kittredge said. “But the upshot is with the reality of working in the St. John River with potential ice issues any construction work probably won’t start until May, so the completion deadline has been pushed back to August 31, 2014.”
In the meantime, heavy truck traffic will continue to use the established detours and lighting systems put into place when the bridge was deemed unsafe for heavy traffic in 2010.
“The Maine and Canadian departments of transportation are committed to that point of entry,” Kittredge said. “We are looking at contingency plans if the bridge does become more unsafe [and] we are prepared to deal with that eventuality.”
Looking ahead to the projected completion date, Kittredge said he and his Canadian counterparts are well aware construction could wind down just as thousands of visitors are descending on the region for the 2014 World Acadian Congress.
“We are taking that event into account and in our bid documents we have wording that directs the successful contractor to assure access as the event goes on,” he said.
Wording in the contract specifies two lanes of traffic over the bridge must be open throughout the World Acadian Congress, Aug. 8-24, 2014, and construction will not in any manner interfere with the congress.
Construction also must not interfere with other annual events including the Can Am Sled Dog Races held each March in Fort Kent.
The actual bridge construction is the second of the overall five-phase project.
Demolition of the Fort Kent Masonic Lodge to make room for the new bridge was completed last summer, and calls for bids on the final three phases — entrances on the Maine and New Brunswick sides of the border and demolition of the old bridge — are pending.
“There will be a fully operating new bridge before there is demolition and removal of the old structure,” Kittredge said.