FORT KENT, Maine — Years of planning, negotiating, construction, detours and delays comes to an end on July 31 with the official opening of the new international bridge connecting Maine to Clair, New Brunswick.
“Traffic will be able to fully use the new bridge on July 31,” Jennifer Paul, Maine Department of Transportation construction manager for multimodal programs, said this week. “It will be fully functional to traffic at that point.”
State, provincial and municipal dignitaries will be on hand for the opening ceremony at 10 a.m. in the center of the new bridge, according to information released by the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, which served as the lead agency on the multimillion dollar project. Work began in 2011 with the demolition of the old Fort Kent Masonic Lodge to make way for the new four-span, steel-beam bridge, which is 25-feet wider and 15-feet downriver from the existing structure.
“The [new] bridge itself is fully done,” Paul said. “There is still work to be done on the approaches, but the lanes are all open [and] work on the approaches will not impact use of the new bridge.”
Paul said there is still some work on lighting, curbing, paving and security equipment that will continue into next week at the official U.S. port of entry.
This is all good news to organizers of the 2014 World Acadian Congress, which begins Aug. 8 in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec, with more than 50,000 visitors expected in the region over the two weeks of events.
“The World Acadian Congress was the biggest factor in all the construction scheduling,” Paul said. “Before the region got a lot of extra people we said we would have everything in place for full use of bridge.”
About 1,900 vehicles routinely travel on the existing bridge daily, according to a Department of Transportation study. In 2009, the agency determined that wear and tear on the 84-year-old, 730-foot-long steel truss-style bridge was making it unsafe for the existing traffic flow.
Throughout the construction phase, heavy truck traffic has been limited or detoured entirely for weeks at a time.
The multimillion-dollar cost of the project is being shared evenly by Maine and New Brunswick.
According to Paul, actual bridge construction costs in U.S. dollars based on the exchange rate is around $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.
This past week, a contract to demolish the old bridge was awarded to Reed and Reed Construction in Woolwich.
Demolition will begin as soon as the contractors receive the necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Paul said.
Paul said a ribbon cutting ceremony will precede the opening of the new bridge and added that the horse races, boxing matches and baseball games held in celebration of the opening of the old bridge in 1930 are not planned this time around.