CARRABASSETT VALLEY – Two temporary bridges opened Tuesday night on a small but vital section of Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley that has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene soaked the area on Aug. 28.

With the stretch of highway reopened, construction crews can start building permanent bridges over the Carrabassett River and Brackett Brook to replace the ones that collapsed in the storm.

Irene brought more than 8 inches of rain to northern Franklin County and caused river flooding that washed away the two bridges, just 300 yards apart, where the road provides access to Sugarloaf Mountain Resort.

People who rely on the bridges, including emergency responders, had to use long detours after the washouts, making the temporary replacements a priority in Maine’s storm response.

With the emergency repair finished, and with hundreds of other storm repairs needed for roads and bridges statewide, some lawmakers’ attention is turning to how the repairs will be funded.

Transportation officials learned Tuesday that Maine has received $1 million in federal aid to help pay for storm repairs on certain roads and bridges, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation.

The funds will reimburse Maine for money it spends to repair eligible highway systems that were damaged by the storm. For example, the two bridges on Route 27 are eligible for aid through the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program, Latti said.

It’s unclear how far the federal aid will go toward paying for the temporary bridges, as well as the nearly 200 roads and one dozen bridges in Maine that were damaged by Irene.

Latti declined to give a cost for the bridge projects, citing ongoing negotiations with the contractor, Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich. The permanent bridges are expected to be finished by Nov. 18.

Temporary and permanent bridges differ because of their materials and designs, and their expected longevity, said Ted Clark, senior project manager for the contractor.

Permanent bridges are typically built for a 100-year lifespan. Temporary ones meet the same safety standards and can handle the same traffic as permanent bridges, but are built with materials and designs that have a shorter life, Clark said.

Latti expects Maine will get additional aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, separate from the highway emergency relief program.

There must be at least $1,657,400 worth of storm damage to qualify for the additional emergency federal aid.

Repairs for damaged roads and bridges statewide are sure to cost more than that, Latti said.

State and federal officials are still evaluating storm damage to gather data, and the distribution of emergency aid will be determined after that work is complete, said Latti.

The amount of FEMA aid will be determined based on a variety of factors, he said. For example, the statewide storm damage threshold has to be met first. Then, individual counties have to show a certain amount of damage to get the federal aid for repairs, he said.

“This funding will help our state repair and replace this important infrastructure as soon as possible,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a ranking member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a news release.

A news release from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said, “Given this infrastructure’s close proximity to some of Maine’s top tourist destinations, this funding is critical to our state’s economic vitality as the winter season approaches.

It is vital we maintain the safety and efficiency of our state’s roadways, and without this emergency aid the main arteries into these communities would remain severed indefinitely, to the detriment of our state and local economies.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree agreed that the state would struggle to recover without the federal aid.

“These funds will be a huge help in getting Maine’s infrastructure back online for our communities and businesses. It’s critical that we do so as quickly as we can,” she said in a news release.

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Robinson can be contacted at 861-9287 or at [email protected]