FORT KENT, Maine — There is still a lot of work to be done and at least two scheduled traffic disruptions, but officials are confident the new international bridge connecting Maine and New Brunswick will be open for all drivers later this summer.
Work should be complete and all lanes open for cross-border traffic between Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick, on July 31, Jennifer Paul, Maine Department of Transportation construction manager for multimodal programs, said Monday.
In the meantime, as crews finish up work on the new bridge and begin construction of access ramps on both sides, heavy trucks will be detoured away from the crossing June 16 through at least July 28, Paul said.
No vehicles measuring 9 feet wide, 12 feet high and 22 feet long or larger will be allowed on the bridge between June 16 and July 13.
The same restrictions also will apply to trucks entering the U.S. from July 15 through July 28.
Trucks leaving the U.S. during that period only will need to be smaller than 49 feet long.
“Contractor activities in May, June and July involve [customs and border patrol] booth and canopy construction which severely limits the maneuverability of oversized vehicles attempting to cross,” according to an MDOT flyer.
Oversized trucks will be detoured in June and July to the next-nearest port of entry about 22 miles down the St. John River at Madawaska and Edmundston, New Brunswick.
The new bridge is located 15 feet downriver from the current structure.
About 1,900 vehicles travel on the existing bridge daily, according to a DOT study. In 2009, the agency determined that wear and tear on the 730-foot-long steel truss-style bridge was making it unsafe for the existing traffic flow.
In 2011, the Fort Kent Masonic Lodge building was demolished to make way for construction of the new four-span, steel-beam bridge, which is 25 feet wider and includes three in-river piers and two abutments.
The multimillion-dollar cost of the project is being shared evenly by Maine and New Brunswick with the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure serving as the lead agency.
To date, according to Paul, actual bridge construction costs in U.S. dollars based on the current exchange rate is $14.7 million.
Another $4.2 million contract to build the U.S. approach ramp was awarded last year to Soderburg Construction out of Caribou.
Within a few weeks crews on the Fort Kent side of the border will begin removing the concrete islands on the existing approach ramp to the old bridge and start work on relocating the Customs and Border Patrol’s inspection booths and related cross-border structures to the new bridge.
The final phase will begin with actual construction of the 175-foot approach ramp which will climb at a gradual seven to eight percent pitch to the bridge.
Meanwhile, on the New Brunswick side, according to a release from the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, bids for the demolition job of the old bridge are being prepared along with bids for the access ramp in Clair.
Paul said all agencies and governments on both sides of the border worked together to keep the disruption to commercial traffic to a minimum.
“We talked to all the stakeholders and worked to come to a solution that least impacts the traffic patterns,” she said.
“The posting is part of the construction process,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager, said. “It will be disruptive to certain businesses but [MDOT] is doing a good job notifying all those who will be impacted.”
Calling the restrictions “a necessary evil,” Guimond pointed out that traffic on Main Street will continue to flow throughout the construction, though will be limited to one-lane at times.
“Yes, there will be some interruptions,” he said. “But that is not unexpected in a project like this.”