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Low bid for new international bridge Maine entry ramp is 34 percent over estimated budget

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Construction continues on the new international bridge connecting Fort Kent to Clair, New Brunswick, on July 25, 2013. Looking from Fort Kent into Canada, the platform of the new bridge rises in front of the old, functionally obsolete bridge.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — Despite coming in more than $1 million over the estimated budget, a bid has been accepted from a northern Maine contractor for the construction of the entry ramp to the new international bridge connecting Fort Kent and New Brunswick.

The Maine Department of Transportation is issuing a letter of intent to award the contract to Soderburg Construction of Caribou for what is now anticipated to be a $4,212,790 project, nearly 34 percent above the $3.1 million initial state estimate, according to Joel Kittredge, DOT project manager.

Two bids were submitted for the project, Kittredge said, from Soderberg and from Ed Pelletier and Sons of Madawaska, which were opened Aug. 21.

“The bids obviously came in well above the MDOT estimates,” Kittredge said on Friday. “This was largely due to the nature of the work, the expectation the construction will take place while traffic flow is maintained and certain time elements.”

The extra $1 million for the entry ramp project is currently available, Kittredge said.

Among the outside pressures affecting the bids, according to Kittredge, is the requirement the lane be usable in time for the World Acadian Congress next August and the need to coordinate with federal agencies in relocating structures and lanes for cross-border traffic and inspections.

“This is a small area with a lot going on,” the project manager said.

In July, DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt said that during the access road construction phase, the bridge will be closed to heavy truck traffic for up to 42 days, and all trucks will be detoured 20 miles to the next nearest crossing between Madawaska and Edmunston, New Brunswick.

Soderberg will need to work closely with officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection throughout the ramp construction phase.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection said her agency is ready to work with the contractor.

“CBP has and will continue to collaborate with our partners, stakeholders and the local community as we work together on any operational infrastructure changes in the Fort Kent area that balance security with the needs of the local community and the upcoming World Acadian Congress,” Shelbe Benson-Fuller of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s office of public affairs said Friday. “We are very committed to working with all stakeholders toward this shared goal while maintaining international traffic flow at all times as equipment and lanes are shifted over to the new bridge.”

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 importance of moving traffic over the new bridge in time for the World Acadian Congress Aug. 8-24, 2014, cannot be overstated, according to the event’s international co-president.

“It is so critical that it would be difficult to even have the congress without the bridge itself completed and the [access] ramp completed,” George Dumond, who is also the president of the World Acadian Congress regional coordinating committee, said Friday. “We need to have at least two lanes open, and maybe even three.”

The three-week congress, held in different locations every five years, will include hundreds of family reunions, concerts, performances, lectures, athletic and other events celebrating all things Acadian.

For the first time ever, the congress will be hosted by three regions — Maine’s St. John Valley, western New Brunswick and the Temiscouata area in Quebec.

The event typically draws up to 60,000 visitors, according to organizers, and Dumond said there is every indication crowd numbers will be that high next summer.

“There is going to be a huge amount of activity on both sides of the border,” he said. “The ports of entry are crucial to move masses of people from one side to the other [and] that can’t happen without good access to the [Fort Kent] bridge.”

Construction on the new ramp should begin this month and continue until work must cease due to winter weather conditions, Kittredge said.

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.

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