PASSADUMKEAG, Maine — Residents of this small town in central Penobscot County, especially those on Goulds Ridge Road, are worried about response times for firetrucks and ambulances, now that the narrow bridge spanning the Passadumkeag River has a new 6,000-pound weight limit.
Drivers of heavy vehicles face up to an 11½-mile detour traveling from the town’s center to Goulds Ridge Road or vice versa.
“If I have to call 911 for one of my kids and it adds 25 minutes, it’s a problem,” Goulds Ridge Road resident Jessica McLeod, who has two young children, said on Monday.
Residents also are upset with Maine Department of Transportation officials who posted Hathaway Bridge on Friday, Jan. 29, and didn’t notify local residents or town officials.
“They didn’t inform the town, the school or emergency services that they changed the weight limit on that bridge,” Jerry White, superintendent of SAD 31, which includes Passadumkeag and five other towns, said. “I found out on Saturday morning,” Jan. 30, through word of mouth.
White said his first thought was: “You have got to be kidding me.”
State officials acknowledge that they messed up when they posted the bridge without notification.
“We should have done a better job informing the town and the people who use that bridge,” DOT spokesman Mark Latti said on Monday. “Compared to some, there isn’t a large amount of use, but still it’s a vital link” for local residents.
The 105-foot green metal pony-truss bridge connects the village with Goulds Ridge. It was built in 1938 and the last major maintenance work done on the single-lane river crossing was done in 1978, said John Buxton, DOT state bridge maintenance engineer.
“The bridge was posted to 3 tons due to condition and advanced deterioration,” he said. “There are issues with the steel and stone abutments.”
Once Passadumkeag Fire Chief Brent Faloon heard the news, he immediately called Greenbush Fire Department officials.
“Greenbush fire has graciously accepted the challenge to respond first” to emergencies on the Goulds Ridge side of the bridge, he said. “What this effectively has done is add about 15 minutes, in a best case scenario, to 30 minutes” to response times.
“You can’t get a firetruck, ambulance, school bus, snowplow, fuel delivery truck or anything larger than a pickup truck across that bridge,” Faloon said. “It’s isolated Goulds Ridge to any of that stuff.”
In fact, Faloon’s personal truck, a Dodge 1500, with a gross vehicle weight of 6,600 pounds, is now too heavy to cross the span. And he is not alone.
“There’s at least half a dozen pickup trucks in the town” that exceed the weight limit, town Treasurer Mary Lee Mottram said.
“People are just very upset,” she said. “Mostly, because there was no notification.”
The safety of the town’s oldest resident, 99-year-old Beatrice “Bea” Mottram, who turns 100 in July, and other elderly townspeople who live on Goulds Ridge, was mentioned by several area residents this week.
Bea Mottram said on Tuesday that she is worried.
“They would have to go all the way around through Olamon to get to me,” said the nonagenarian. “So far, I’ve been doing very well. At least I’m able to stay in my home. I’d hate to have to leave here.”
Mottram lives about 1/8-mile south of the bridge, and her son and daughter-in-law, Charlie and Mary Lee Mottram, live about two miles farther away, she said. Sixty six people live on the road. Also on that side of the bridge is a gravel hauling company that isn’t currently operating.
“The thing [residents are] crabbing about, what they’re worried about, is the ambulance service,” Barbara Spencer, owner of the town’s only store, B N’W Variety on Route 2, said on Monday. “We’ve been told they have to go all the way around. What if Bea has a problem?”
The town is covered by Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, which has an ambulance stationed at the Howland Fire Department.
“It will take [at least] an extra 15 minutes to get to her,” Mary Lee Mottram said.
School and town officials had to scramble to figure out ways to collect students cut off by the posted bridge, and to keep the roads plowed on both sides.
“The snowplow, he has to go to the bridge and turn around and then go all the way around and plow the other side,” said Mary Lee Mottram, who has to cross the bridge to get to work.
“We had to rearrange two bus routes in order to pick up those students in a timely fashion,” White said.
Trystin McLeod, 10, is the last person to get dropped off on the new route. He got off the school bus at 3:20 p.m. Monday, about 30 minutes after his normal time, his stepdad, Jim Strout, said. His bus had to drive into the community of Olamon and then to Scotts Corners to connect with Goulds Ridge Road, in order to drop off McLeod and two other Passadumkeag students. With the new bus route, McLeod gets on the bus 20 minutes earlier than he did before the bridge posting.
The extra bus time is a concern, but is nothing compared to how worried McLeod’s mother is about emergency services for her two young children and others along the rural roadway.
“Somebody could be dead before they got there,” she said. “I certainly hope they’ll fix it.”
Town officials asked the DOT to inspect the 7 decades-old bridge last year.
“They came out in November  but kept quiet and didn’t say anything and then bang-o,” Mary Lee Mottran said, frustration obvious in her voice.
The bridge would continue to deteriorate with continued heavy traffic use, Latti said.
“It a safety measure,” he said. “If we continued to let heavy vehicles utilize that bridge, the bridge would be further weakened.”
Traffic counts for the bridge are low, which means it’s a low priority for state officials, both Latti and Buxton said. Town residents have been told it would be no less than five years before the bridge even is considered for funding.
“You’re looking at a bridge on a local road with a couple hundred cars a day, under 200 a day, that has to compete [for funding] with those on Route 2” and other state highways, Buxton said. “It’s tough.”
The deterioration is enough that “I don’t believe there is a practical repair,” he said, adding his estimate to replace the bridge “would be in the million dollar range, I bet.”
Those who violate the law face a ticket for traveling over a posted restricted road, and a $610 fine, Lt. Tom Kelly, who leads the Maine State Police vehicle traffic-commercial traffic division.
Second Selectwoman Kathryn “Katie” Braggins has written an appeal of the posting and is requesting that the state move the local bridge up on the project construction list.
“They need to re-evaluate the situation,” she said. “I’m trying to work to get it listed as a higher priority.”
Braggins is also looking for a possible grant and other sources of funding to find a suitable replacement. Third Selectman John York has been asked to contact the University of Maine “to see if replacing the bridge could be a project for civil engineers or construction management,” she said.
The university’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites facility’s “bridge-in-a-backpack” technology is another option that the town is researching.
“We could be a test site,” she said.
For now, it’s a waiting game to see what the state does, and if any options come forward, Braggins said.
“I feel bad for the citizens of our town who live on the other side of that bridge,” she said. “We’re an elderly community and it’s always a concern getting them emergency services.
“It could mean life or death,” Braggins said.