FORT KENT, Maine — Construction is progressing according to schedule on the new international bridge connecting Maine to Clair, New Brunswick.
At the same time, the town is preparing for the final phase of a Main Street paving project that began last summer.
“Work began on the north abutment in Clair earlier this spring,” Jennifer Paul, Maine Department of Transportation construction manager for multimodal projects, said on Friday. “We are on schedule for an August 2014 completion date.”
The New Brunswick Department of Transportation is the lead agency on the $13.9 million project, which is jointly funded through the province and the state.
Earlier this year Fredericton-based construction company Caldwell and Ross, LLC, was awarded the bid for the project and moved heavy equipment to the New Brunswick side of the construction area.
The activity was a welcome sight for residents who have been forced to deal with detours and delays since the DOT posted weight limits on the current bridge almost three years ago and limited heavy truck traffic to one vehicle at a time.
Since then, truck traffic on the Maine side has been detoured through town to a special staging area regulated by a series of traffic lights.
Later this month the bridge will be closed for a period of time to all traffic as DOT workers inspect and address any issues on the existing structure.
“This work will be done to get us through the period until the new bridge is complete,” Paul said. “There needs to be some concrete work and other maintenance to assure it remains safe for the traveling public to use it.”
Cranes also have been moved into place on the Fort Kent site in preparation for the start of construction on the south abutment.
“We are just waiting for the permits from the Army Corps of Engineers,” Paul said. “There are few details that need to be finalized before we can begin on the Fort Kent side.”
The new bridge will be located 15 feet downriver from the current structure. Last year the Fort Kent Masonic Lodge building was demolished to make way for the construction.
About 1,900 vehicles travel on the bridge daily, according to a DOT study, and in 2009 the agency determined wear and tear on the 730-foot-long steel truss-style bridge was making it unsafe for the existing traffic flow.
The next closest point of entry between the two countries is 20 miles down the St. John River between Madawaska and Edmundston, New Brunswick.
Known as a “mill and fill” project in road construction, the ongoing resurfacing project called for grinding and removing the top inch to inch-and-a-half of the road and replacing that with new asphalt from the intersection of East Main and Market streets to the International Bridge on West Main Street, a distance of about a mile.
Northern Paving, Inc., of Limestone began the DOT project in June 2011 with an initial completion date of July 30 that same summer.
But one of the wettest construction seasons on record coupled with material issues extended the project well into the fall before winter weather halted all work entirely.
At the time, according to DOT officials, about 600 tons of freshly placed asphalt failed to meet state density and high-air void specifications.
Since then, Northern Paving has worked with the state to remedy the problem, and last month DOT officials were in town to collect samples of the road material for testing.
“The state is looking at those samples right now,” said Fort Kent town manager Don Guimond. “That analysis will determine the level of remediation that must be done.”
That work, according to DOT project manager John Bither, will extend over the entire length of West Main Street from the Fish River Bridge to the road’s intersection with the international bridge.
According to Bither, Northern Paving, LLC, is currently completing a project in Grand Isle, and once that is complete, work will begin in Fort Kent.
Bither anticipates that could be in mid- to late June, but cautioned weather will play a major factor in that schedule.
“Basically they are going to mill up what was done last summer and replace it,” he said. “That could last about a week, but it will depend on the weather.”
That is good news for merchants along West Main Street who dealt with construction noise, dust and delays last summer.
“There is no doubt that had an adverse impact on the economy of those businesses,” Guimond said. “We are hoping the remediation efforts will be short and we know there will be a significant improvement to the street when it’s complete.”