FORT KENT, Maine — Construction crews working on the new international bridge connecting Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick this week didn’t let a little cold get in the way of keeping on schedule.
With air temperatures dropping below zero and wind chills of up to 45 below zero along the St. John River, workers with Coldwell Ross, LLC, went right on installing wooden planking for the bridge’s deck and setting thousands of steel bolts in the new structure.
“It’s harsh out there,” Alvin Alain, project manager with the Fredericton-based construction company, said Friday morning from his temporary office in Clair. “We have been evaluating the weather and temperatures each morning and when needed, the [workers] come inside to get warm.”
Tasks requiring fine motor skills can be difficult when wearing cold-weather gear and bulky gloves, according to Richard Lister, project foreman.
“It can be hard to get ahold of things,” he said Friday.
All this week his crew worked to splice together massive sheets of steel with thousands of bolts.
“We can use [air] tools to set the bolts,” he said. “But the final torquing has to be done by hand.”
With work on the bridge about 40 percent complete, its steel frame now spans the St. John River on top of three piers completed last fall.
“We’re working on the decking now,” Alain said. “Monday and Tuesday were not so bad but Wednesday it was just too cold and windy to be out there.”
Instead, Alain said, his 19-man crew worked preparing materials for use later in the week inside the construction-site shop and out of the wind.
“The crew is working well even in the cold,” Alain said. “You don’t get the production like you do in the summer, but we have really good men here.”
Work began on the new $13.9 million international bridge last March after years of design plans, public comment and negotiations involving the state and province of New Brunswick.
The new bridge is located 15 feet downriver from the current structure and in 2011 the Fort Kent Masonic Lodge building was demolished to make way for the construction.
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 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.
Bidding on the access ramp on both sides and for the demolition and removal of the old bridge is expected to go out this year with final completion in August 2014.