CARRABASSETT VALLEY – The two new bridges built to replace those destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene opened to traffic Friday.

They met a fast-tracked deadline that cost at least $576,000 more than a project of that magnitude normally would to avoid affecting the ski season, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.

A private contractor spent just over two months building the bridges on a small but vital stretch of Route 27, where the entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain Resort connects to the highway.

The bridges cost $2.88 million, a project that could have cost between 20 to 25 percent less if completed on a normal construction schedule, state transportation officials said.

Ski season had been set to kick off the same day as the new bridges, but recent warm weather pushed back the resort’s opening day. Snowmaking is under way, and the resort hopes to open within the next week, said Ethan Austin, a spokesman for the resort.

Getting the bridges open before ski season started will benefit the resort and surrounding community, Austin said.

“That’s a huge positive for Sugarloaf, and not only for Sugarloaf but the entire Carrabassett Valley region,” he said.

State transportation officials decided to spend the extra tax dollars to speed up the bridges’ construction. They cited unsafe winter traffic conditions and fears that tourists drawn to the ski resort may not visit Maine as the reasons.

Temporary bridges had been built that reopened the section of highway to traffic just nine days after the storm on Aug. 28. These structures, while not built to the same longevity and design standards as permanent bridges, allowed the work on the new bridges to begin at the site, according to Ted Talbot, spokesman for transportation department.

Repairing all of the storm damage on the highway, including an S-curve just south of the new bridges, cost taxpayers $3.6 million, Talbot said.

Added tax dollars to speed up the project paid to get extra workers and equipment to the site, as well as costs tied to overtime work and getting materials there faster than normal, Talbot said.

The new bridges cross over Carrabassett River and Brackett Brook, the waterways just 300 yards apart that had floodwaters from Irene wash away the other bridges.

State transportation officials determined that the other bridges, one built in 1958 and the other in 1999, collapsed because the storm created extreme flooding, ranked as an event that happens once every 100 years.

The new bridges are designed to be built in areas that have high water flows and a history of flash flooding, officials said.

The bridge projects on Route 27 started after Gov. Paul LePage approved a fast-tracked contracting method for emergency storm repairs, allowing the transportation department to forgo the public bidding process to select the contractor.

Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich was the contractor hired for the project.

The project is getting federal aid reimbursement for 80 percent to pay for emergency storm repairs, Talbot said.

Sugarloaf Mountain Resort spent the summer installing a new $3 million chairlift to replace the Spillway East lift that derailed last year and another lift that ran alongside it, Austin said.

The resort employed helicopters and heavy equipment to install the fixed-grip quad that is faster, more wind-resistant and lower to the ground than the two-person chairlift it is replacing, he said.

The new lift is part of $4.3 million in off-season upgrades at Sugarloaf, which is also upgrading other lifts and continuing to expand its new terrain on neighboring Burnt Mountain.

The old lift derailed in December, sending eight people to the hospital, and a state inspector’s report cited wind, mechanical problems and training and maintenance problems at the resort as factors in the derailment.

A chairlift management expert with more than 30 years experience was recently hired by the resort to implement new maintenance and training practices recommended by the state inspector’s, Austin said.

“We’re reaffirming our safety values,” he said, referring to steps taken in the wake of the derailment.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Robinson can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

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