VERONA ISLAND, Maine — With a thunderous, steely groan and an enormous splash, the two towers of the defunct Waldo-Hancock Bridge were separated for the first time since 1931 after demolition workers dropped the suspension cables into the Penobscot River.
From a platform held aloft by a crane more than ten stories above the river, workers for S&R Corporation of Lowell, Mass., used a torch to split the last remaining cables between the two towers. The cables were originally added to the bridge in 2000, to supplement the original steel cords that held up the deck below.
As the 900-foot-long supplemental cables — each made of 2-inch galvanized steel, bundled into packs of four — were split, they fell into the river below. The clang of steel hitting steel as the cables struck the towers, and the giant splash as they plunged into the river, could be heard from nearby Fort Knox.
“I’m sure that after the first one dropped, any fish in the area were gone for quite awhile,” said Phil Roberts, Maine Department of Transportation’s resident engineer for the bridge demolition.
After the cables fell, a barge moved to each tower to remove the portion of the cables that was underwater. The remaining length will be removed before the final phase of deconstruction — the two 206-foot towers — begins next week.
As the crew worked Thursday, idle workers and nearby residents gathered on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, which replaced the Waldo-Hancock in 2006, to watch the cables fall.
“It’s the end of a great bridge,” said Larry Wahl, owner of Wahl’s Dairy Port in Bucksport, who brought a camera to document the demolition. “It’s a shame to see it go, but it had to be done.”
Wahl said he has been coming to the new bridge from time to time to watch each step of the old one’s demise. Earlier this spring, the last piece of the Waldo-Hancock’s 2,000-foot deck was removed, leaving the bridge a ghostly skeleton of its former self.
Wahl said that aside from feeling sentimental about the bridge slowly withering away, he also came Thursday to admire the men working in the crane platform high above the water.
“I used to be in construction, and I’m fascinated by crane work,” he said. “I’m like a little kid with an erector set.”
Work to disassemble the 82-year-old bridge began in November. The towers will come down last. Each will be cut into sections, starting from the top, which will be lowered by crane to a barge below until all that’s left are the concrete piers in the river.
In the early 20th century, the Waldo-Hancock Bridge cost $846,000 to build. That’s $12.77 million in today’s dollars. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge — which was speedily built while the state implemented stop-gap measures to temporarily strengthen the older, failing bridge — cost $85 million to build and is 2,120 feet long. Its towers are 440 feet high.
Demolition work was contracted to S&R for $5.35 million. Work also is underway on a historical outlook on the Prospect side of the bridge, where visitors will have scenic views of the Penobscot River, downtown Bucksport and the newer bridge. Eventually, placards will be placed detailing the history of both bridges.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.