Despite a few minor setbacks, a mild winter and around-the-clock work have helped keep the construction of a new drawbridge in South Bristol on track to open by late May.
Catherine Mettey, the Maine Department of Transportation’s resident engineer for the project, said the bascule bridge is on track for a May 28 opening.
“There haven’t been many surprises so far,” Mettey said. “We have had to make some minor modifications along the way, but everything is going very well.”
Cianbro, of Pittsfield, is building the bridge after securing the contract with a $10,995,622 bid. Mettey said the project is on budget.
Phase one of the project, which included the construction of retaining walls and abutments, began in September 2014 and concluded in June 2015.
The project resumed in September 2015, and the channel officially closed to boat traffic Oct. 21.
The 82-year-old swing bridge opened one last time Oct. 30. Residents looked on as the bridge got stuck twice.
Mettey said there is still quite a bit of work to be done during the channel closure before the bascule bridge can open to traffic. The opening is scheduled for May 28.
The project was running a bit behind schedule, however, Mettey said Cianbro crews have been working 24/7 to get the project on schedule. Currently, Cianbro is working on the construction of the west bascule pit, which is where the bridge will sit when it opens.
A typical day begins at 6 a.m. when one of the Cianbro crews reports for the first 12-hour shift, Mettey said.
Most of the 35 members of the Cianbro team are renting homes or apartments near the construction site. Mettey is also renting a home in the area.
One of the issues the DOT and Cianbro have run into is the ledge underneath the site.
“In order to construct the bascule pits, we need to grind the ledge down to a certain elevation,” Mettey said. “The ledge is harder than we thought it would be, so it’s taking a little longer than we anticipated.”
During one of the previous stages of the project, crews had to work around the tide schedule, something Mettey described as “a major challenge.”
“Usually when you build cofferdams” – temporary watertight structures for construction in bodies of water – “it’s to create a dry work area and keep the water out,” Mettey said. “However, the cofferdams have been kept flooded, so we had to work with the tide. It was difficult because we were constantly waiting.”
The work area is also a bit more confined than sites Mettey has worked on in the past.
“One of the main challenges is the bridge being so small and so close to the surrounding homes,” Mettey
said. “It’s a major challenge, but we’ve been able to work around it.”
One factor that has helped the construction progress is this year’s mild winter.
“We got really lucky we haven’t had a winter like the one we had last year,” Mettey said. “When it does snow, we do have to go out and clean out areas and uncover everything, but the weather thankfully hasn’t been too much of an issue.”
Mettey said the goal is to complete the bascule bridge by late May. At that point, traffic will move onto the new bridge and Cianbro will demolish a section of the temporary bridge to allow the channel to reopen to marine traffic.
In addition to the bridge, a new operator house will also need to be built.
Once the bascule bridge opens and the temporary bridge has been dismantled, Mettey said crews will wrap up a few remaining loose ends, including improving the roadway leading up to the bridge. The contract completion date is set for Nov. 15, however, Mettey said she hopes to have the project completed by late July or early August.
Mettey said members of the community have been supportive of the project.
“There are people who will walk across the temporary bridge and watch the construction,” Mettey said. “People are interested in what we’re doing, and I think they’re happy the bridge is being replaced.”
For more information on the bridge construction or to stay updated on project’s progress, visit http://maine.gov/mdot/gutbridge/.