AUGUSTA — Memorial Bridge is about to get a $7 million, and at times noisy, paint job.
Work on the nearly 2,100-foot-long, 48-foot-wide city bridge is expected to start next week and continue into the fall.

Work will be almost entirely underneath the deck of the bridge, so both lanes of the bridge are expected to remain open throughout the project.

The $7 million cost of repainting the bridge, which was built in 1949 at a cost of $1.2 million, is lower than state Department of Transportation officials thought it would be. Project Manager Nate Benoit said a state engineer previously estimated it would cost about $10 million.

Much of the cost, Benoit said, is in removing the old paint, some of which likely contains hazardous lead, and containing it so it can be removed and disposed of off-site, rather than just be left to fall into the Kennebec River. The blasted-off materials will be collected and shipped to a disposal site.

“The big thing is the paint all has to be contained,” Benoit said. He said netting and tarps will be used to capture the removed paint.

The bridge was last painted sometime in the late 1980s, Benoit said. Lead paint was used then, but is now prohibited, he said.

Removing the old paint on the bridge is going to be noisy, according to Tim Hebert, project resident for the transportation department. Contractors will blast the paint off the metal structure with steel shot, similar to BBs, he said.

The crew’s work hours are expected to be between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“We suspect there may be some noise complaints about the noise,” Benoit told Augusta city councilors on Thursday, as he updated them on the coming project.

Even so, traffic flow on the bridge — about 26,000 vehicles a day — is not expected to be disrupted.

Other than for occasional delivery of materials to the site, which Benoit said would not occur during rush hour, both lanes of the bridge are expected to remain open, since the blasting and painting takes place below the bridge deck.

There may be some disruption to traffic below the bridge, on Arsenal Street, during portions of the project, officials said.

One of the bridge’s two sidewalks will be closed during the project. The closed sidewalk will be reserved as an emergency exit in case any workers need to be evacuated from the containment area.
Benoit said the transportation department is giving the out-of-state contractor, Spartan painting, two years to complete the job. But the firm intends to finish in one, he said.

“Their schedule is to finish by Thanksgiving of this year,” Benoit said. “They think they can do it in one year — not guaranteeing that, but that’s what their ambitious schedule shows.”

He said the firm plans to have a big enough crew and enough equipment to work from both ends of the bridge at once.

Hebert said workers will apply five coats of paint and use caulking to fill cracks and crevices.

The bridge’s color will remain what Hebert called “federal bridge green.”

Such projects typically are funded by a combination of 20 percent state and 80 percent federal money, according to state officials.

Mayor William Stokes has asked what could result if the bridge weren’t maintained with the $7 million paint job.

Benoit responded that if the steel structure of the bridge were not repainted, it could continue to rust and become weaker and thinner, and could need to be posted against travel by heavy trucks. He said it would be “really cost-prohibitive” at $35 million or more to replace the bridge with a new one.

A state report on the bridge lists its substructure and superstructure condition as satisfactory and deck condition as excellent.

A new concrete deck was installed in 2006 at a cost of $10.9 million.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]