Construction is under way to replace the bridge in Westbrook that got its 15 minutes of infamy last fall when President Obama cited its deterioration as an example of the nation’s desperate infrastructure needs.

Workers from Reed & Reed, the contractor for the $5 million project, are erecting a temporary bridge next to the Cumberland Mills Bridge, which is to be replaced and ready for use by the spring of 2014.

Traffic is expected to shift to the temporary bridge in May, said Ben Condon, project manager for the Maine Department of Transportation.

The 58-year-old Cumberland Mills Bridge, which actually is two bridges that connect at an island in the Presumpscot River, serves 15,000 drivers daily.

Commuters were unexpectedly rerouted onto side streets one morning in October, after transportation workers found a 2-foot-by-3-foot hole in the deck of the bridge and closed it down for emergency repairs.

The next day, Obama mentioned the bridge at a White House news conference that he called to promote his jobs bill, which called for a large chunk of funding for infrastructure projects.

“In Maine, there is a bridge that is in such bad shape that pieces of it were literally falling off the other day,” the president said. “And, meanwhile, we’ve got millions of laid-off construction workers who could right now be busy rebuilding roads, rebuilding bridges, rebuilding schools.”

Condon said the Department of Transportation had planned to start seeking bids on the project in November, but pushed its schedule up several weeks because of the sudden deterioration.

Aside from the portion that was fixed, “the rest of the deck is in terrible condition,” Condon said of the 80-foot-long bridge.

“That’s not to say it’s not drivable and not safe,” he added.

The bridge replacement is a necessary evil for Scott Balfour, owner of The Elms Bed & Breakfast, a seven-bedroom inn near the west end of the bridge.

Balfour said he recently canceled a reservation made by guests from Europe, because he knew the construction site in his yard wouldn’t live up to Maine’s reputation for natural beauty.

Balfour said he expects the two-year project to have a “major impact” on his business, which is busiest from June to November, when guests stop in Westbrook on their way to Acadia National Park or drive down from Bangor to spend a night in Portland.

Still, he recognizes there isn’t a better alternative.

“Having the bridge fall apart and close unexpectedly would certainly be bad for business also,” Balfour said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]