ELLSWORTH, Maine — Construction is well under way on a new 2-mile road that will reroute Route 180, eliminating the need to maintain a failing bridge at the Graham Lake Dam at the road’s southern terminus.
Sargent Corp. of Old Town was awarded the $3.5 million Department of Transportation bid early this summer. The new two-lane street will connect Mariaville Road/Route 180 with Vittum Road on the west side of the Union River, making a bridge that spans the river at Graham Lake unnecessary.
Crews from Sargent and the Maine DOT arrived in late August, and have already cleared an 80-foot-wide span to make way for the new two-way road.
The route will include the use of the so-called “ bridge in a backpack,” technology developed at the University of Maine to build bridges quickly and with less equipment and smaller crews. The bridge will span Grey’s Brook, a tiny trickle of a stream located just off Route 180, near the intersection of Route 179.
On Wednesday, crews from Sarget were installing huge steel sheet piles designed to hold back 20 feet of soil and gravel that will form the lead-up to that bridge.
Ernie Martin, the DOT’s project manager, said the price for the project came in at just over half the department’s $6.5 million estimate because contractors are jockeying for work in a still-struggling economy.
“Most of our bids have come in extraordinarily well,” he said Wednesday. “That’s good for us, and it supplies work for the contractors as well.”
The state identified a need to connect Route 180 to Route 1A via Vittum Road after the Graham Lake Bridge received a failing grade in 2007, scoring a 28.7 in a 100-point survey. Fearful for motorist safety, the DOT that year constructed a single-lane temporary bridge over the dam to keep traffic off the decrepit structure.
Rather than fund the construction and future maintenance of a new bridge on top of a privately owned dam, the department opted to move Route 180. Rerouting the road instead of building a new bridge has the bonus of eliminating the Route 180/Route 179 intersection, making access to Ellsworth easier for motorists on both highways.
Martin said the project is expected to be complete in November 2013. When traffic is diverted along the new street, the old stretches of Route 180 leading up to the Graham Lake Dam will become dead-end streets, providing access only to boat launches, private residences and the dam itself.
The department will remove the one-lane temporary bridge, but it has no plans to tear down the old bridge. Martin said work will continue through the winter, weather permitting.
“You won’t see any pavement this year, but if mother nature is as gracious as she was last year, we’ll continue on as long as we can until the cold weather comes in,” he said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.