PORTLAND, Maine — Three blasts from a Howitzer cannon marked the opening of the new Maine Veterans Memorial Bridge connecting Portland and South Portland in a ceremony that featured speeches from local and national dignitaries and members of the military.
The bridge opens today to all traffic, however final construction on the 12-foot pedestrian and bicycle pathway is expected to wrap up in late October, according to Project Manager Charlie Guerrette of Reed & Reed, the lead contractor on the project.
Construction on the new bridge spanning the Fore River began in July 2010 and the project is scheduled to be completed by December with the demolition of the old Veterans Memorial Bridge, which has stood since 1954 and was described by the Maine Department of Transportation as “rapidly deteriorating.”
“We expect this bridge to stand at least 100 years,” said Jack Parker, CEO of Reed & Reed. DOT awarded the contract to the Woolwich-based firm in February 2010.
In addition to replacing the old bridge, the project aims to reduce congestion on the Portland side at the intersection of the bridge, Fore River Parkway and Valley and Commercial streets.
A major focus of the project was ensuring the bridge be accessible to multiple modes of transportation. The bridge was designed to be friendly for bicycles and pedestrians as well as motor vehicle traffic. A contingent of cyclists was present at the ceremony to celebrate the prospect of increased accessibility between Portland and South Portland.
Among the officials present at the dedication were Mayors Michael Brennan and Patricia Smith of Portland and South Portland, respectively, and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, who flew from Washington, D.C., to attend the ceremony. Mendez said the bridge stands as an example of President Barack Obama’s dedication to the construction of lasting infrastructure throughout the United States.
“We are building an America that will last,” Mendez said. “We’re putting people back to work, so this is an investment in the future, but also in the present.”
More than $50 million in federal funds went toward construction of the $65.1 million project. According to Guerrette of Reed & Reed, the project employed more than 100 workers at the height of construction.
Maine first lady Ann LePage, a frequent advocate for military veterans and their families, spoke at the dedication of the importance of honoring veterans for their service.
“To all veterans who are currently serving and to our future heroes, let this bridge be a symbol of your strength, dedication and fortitude,” LePage said. “All Mainers salute you.”
Following the dedication ceremony, LePage joined retired Army Col. Jack Stern, a veteran of the Korean War, in the ribbon-cutting, opening the bridge to a procession of 50 soldiers of the Maine Army National Guard cyclists.