HOWLAND, Maine — Gerard St. Cyr loves the new Piscataquis River bridge, but he will miss the men and women who helped build it.
“The new bridge looks excellent. I am pleased with how it came out,” the owner of The Corner Store said Tuesday. “I like that it is a lot wider. I especially like the sidewalk, which we can use for snowmobiles this year, and ATVs for when the trail comes through.”
Maine Department of Transportation and Cianbro Corp. workers opened the new $10 million bridge to traffic Friday, after Maine Department of Transportation inspectors signed off on the work. Now workers have to dismantle the old bridge. That work is ongoing and should be done by mid-December, said Archie Wheaton, project superintendent for Cianbro.
“It’s going great,” Wheaton said. “We just have a little bit of cosmetic landscaping to do [with the new bridge], and some paving.”
The bridge’s lighting might be the most significant difference noticeable between it and the old span, Wheaton said.
“It lights up the whole area and it looks great,” he said.
Town officials have heralded the bridge work as among the many steps they are undertaking to revitalize downtown Howland. Begun two years ago, the bridge features a wide sidewalk — ample walking, cycling, ATV and snowmobile riding space — and a gentle sloping uphill and curve.
The project also features a new traffic circle, new lighting and pavement. The three-span plate girder bridge won’t need to be entirely replaced until at least 2112, officials have said.
The bridge is a key component to the Seboeis Stream ATV Club’s efforts to plug downtown Howland into the statewide network of all-terrain vehicle trails, Town Manager Jane Jones said. The Board of Selectmen will consider on Oct. 1 or 14 supporting the club’s proposal to increase access points from the network into downtown, she said.
“That again will be to allow ATV access to the main part of the community, and eventually we hope that they will be able to cross not only this new bridge but also the tannery site, which is planned to have an ATV access point there,” Jones said, “and then go on across the Penobscot River.”
For decades a blighted group of buildings at what was once the town’s largest employer, the former Howland tannery building adjoins the bridge and town river landing and is being razed to make way for a fish bypass. The cleanup continues. Selectmen plan to redevelop the multi-acre property as a commercial or industrial site with recreational trails and park benches.
Maine Department of Transportation officials also plan to replace the Penobscot River bridge about a mile southeast of the Piscataquis River bridge within the next few years. Selectmen are pushing state officials to build ATV and snowmobile space onto that bridge as well, Jones said.
Bridge construction hasn’t been without problems. A Cianbro Corp. bucket truck’s arm was extended enough to knock a power line onto a passing car on Coffin Street and cause 1,100 utility customers to lose electricity for several hours in late August. Cianbro and a federal safety agency are investigating the accident.
A neighbor to the new traffic circle has complained that workers inadvertently cut her access to her own driveway, a problem that appeared to be remedied Tuesday.
St. Cyr’s only regret about the new project: No longer will so many construction workers be shopping at his store. They were good customers, he said. At its peak, the bridge work used 20 construction workers, while the bridge demolition work will need only eight to 10, Wheaton said.