BLUE HILL, Maine — The life of one of Hancock County’s most iconic structures is drawing to a close.
The Falls Bridge that carries Route 157 traffic between Salt Pond and Blue Hill Harbor will be replaced in three years because it is simply getting too old to warrant further usage. Its proposed replacement, an enhanced girder bridge, will be safer and is expected to last 100 years, twice as long as a repaired Falls Bridge, according to local and state officials.
But that does not mean that fans of the bridge — which is formally known as the Stevens Bridge, in honor of A.T. Stevens, a former Blue Hill selectmen — are not feeling a bit wistful about its loss, said James M. Schatz, a member of the Blue Hill Board of Selectmen and town representative to an advisory committee that decided the bridge’s fate.
“As an old person, we all like to think we’re icons because we have been hanging around for a long time,” the 78-year-old Schatz said. “It is a piece of architecture that people have been looking at for almost a century. There is a lot of nostalgia with the people who are familiar with it, but when it gets down to it, it’s narrow. It’s not safe.”
Built in 1926, the bridge is not as well known as the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, but it is one of two remaining rainbow-arch bridges in Maine, according to a website dedicated to the topic, historicbridges.org, which calls the structure “an outstanding example of its type.”
Another website, southbluehillmaine.org, features a history of several of the bridges that have connected the peninsula jutting north to the Reversing Falls — so named because they flow inland, not out to sea — since the 1830s, with the first “permanent” bridge being built in 1852.
An amateur photographer who captured the dawn light hitting the bridge and rocky shoreline around it, Phil Dumond of Bangor, was sad to hear the bridge is on its way out.
“Now bridges are built more for convenience,” Dumont said.
The advisory committee opted to go with an enhanced girder bridge because parts of it will be prefabricated and constructed elsewhere, cutting the time Route 157 would need to be closed to about 60 days. Restoring the old bridge would take several more months and call for the construction of a temporary bridge, Schatz said.
“The major issue was to avoid a long-term shutdown and the disruption it would cause,” he said. “A temporary bridge would be a lot more devastating to the surrounding area.”
The new bridge would likely cost about $7 million, but that figure is tentative. The Maine Department of Transportation’s engineering of the design is expected to start in 2020, with construction finishing in 2022, Schatz said.