FORT KENT, Maine — It’s going to be close, but the new international bridge connecting Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick, will be open to traffic in time for the 2014 World Acadian Congress next August.
“August, 2014 was the original completion date,” David Bernhardt, Maine’s Department of Transportation commissioner, said Thursday morning in Fort Kent. “That date would make anyone nervous with the World Acadian Congress going on that month.”
Acadian Congress planners have estimated that more than 60,000 people will be visiting the St. John Valley on both sides of the border over the course of the three-week event from Aug. 8-24, 2014.
Bernhardt, who was addressing the monthly business breakfast sponsored by the University of Maine at Fort Kent, said representatives with the New Brunswick Department of Transportation — the lead agency on the project — were able to negotiate an earlier completion date with the bridge construction contractors, Fredericton-based Caldwell and Ross LLC.
“The new completion date is now June 30,” Bernhardt said. “They have really moved right along [and] the [new] bridge is there, and there is really not that much left to do.”
Some of the heavy roadwork on the approaches on either side of the bridge should also be complete in time for the World Acadian Congress, he added.
Work began on the new $13.9 million international bridge in 2012 after years of design plans, public comment and negotiations involving state and provincial officials.
In 2011, the Fort Kent Masonic Lodge building was demolished to make way for the construction so the new bridge could be located 15 feet downriver from the current structure.
The next phase in the project, according to Bernhardt, is construction of the new access road leading from Fort Kent’s Main Street onto the bridge.
“That project went out to bids yesterday,” he said Thursday. “Construction will start in mid-September.”
The Canadians plan on advertising the bids for the Clair entrance ramp this January, according to Bernhardt, and should be done around the same time, because the approach from that side is a more direct route, requiring less construction.
Work on the the $3.4 million access road on the Fort Kent side will cease over the winter and resume in April with a completion date of Aug. 1, 2014, Bernhardt said.
In the access road construction phase, the bridge will be closed to heavy truck traffic for up to 42 days, during which all trucks will be detoured 20-miles to the next nearest crossing between Madawaska and Edmunston, New Brunswick.
“That is a lot of time we are talking about,” Bernhardt said. “We will be doing a lot of talking with trucking industry [representatives] to make sure everyone knows what is going on.”
To help move the access road project along, Maine Department of Transportation has provided a financial incentive. For every day ahead of the established completion date, the contractors will be paid $5,000, Bernhardt said. Conversely, they will be penalized $5,000 for each day they finish behind schedule.
Any final construction and cosmetic work will cease during the three week World Acadian Congress when both lanes on the new bridge will be open to cross-border traffic, he said.
“There has been a lot of work among a lot of agencies that has been done and needs to be done,” the commissioner said. “It is always nice to see something happen and even nice to see it when it’s all done.”
About 1,900 vehicles travel on the bridge daily, according to a Maine Department of Transportation 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.
Since then, both countries have posted a weight limit on the bridge, restricting heavy truck traffic to one truck at a time on the span and using a system of lights and detours to control traffic.
The new four-span, steel-beam bridge will be 25 feet wider than the existing one and includes three in-river piers and two abutments. The multimillion-dollar contract is being shared evenly by Maine and New Brunswick.