PORTLAND — More than two years of construction to replace the Veterans Memorial Bridge began on Monday, but state officials do not expect any major traffic snarls during peak weekday commuting hours.

There will, however, be daily closures as needed to the southbound lane during off-peak hours. And the southbound sidewalk and shoulder will be closed starting Monday, June 28.

The Maine Department of Transportation is replacing the 56-year-old bridge that connects Portland to South Portland, used by 22,000 vehicles every day. The 2,150-foot bridge has been periodically closed to repair holes and failing bridge joints.

DOT Project Manager Jeff Folsom said the old bridge will remain open while a new bridge is built.

“Since the existing bridge will remain open during construction of the new bridge, disruption to traffic is expected to be minimal,” Folsom said.

The $63 million project is being done by a construction team consisting of Woolwich-based Reed & Reed General Contractors, California-based T.Y. Lin International, which has a Falmouth office, and their subcontractors.

The replacement bridge will be built on the west side of the existing bridge and connect to the Fore River Parkway in Portland, rather than the Valley Street intersection. It will be taller than the current structure and maintain four traffic lanes.

The new bridge design is the product of three months of meetings with city officials, bike and pedestrian groups, Portland Trails, veterans groups and businesses.

The bridge will include a 12-foot-wide path for bikes and pedestrians that will allow for a possible bike bridge over South Portland’s Long Creek.

The design will include three scenic overlooks on the bridge with interpretive panels that emphasize the area’s history, as well as other marine, environmental and transportation topics. 

There will also be landscaped parks on each end – an effort to produce a gateway effect. The Portland park will recognize the five military branches, while the South Portland park will honor the Merchant Marines.

The replacement bridge is expected to have a 100-year life span and could open to traffic in the summer of 2012. But the project is not expected to be completed until December 2012. Construction updates will be available at VeteransMemorialBridge.org.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

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