NAPLES – For Keith Rickett, the replacement of the causeway bridge on Route 302 is bittersweet. He has memories of jumping into the water from the bridge, and quieter times when the operator would open the bridge any time boaters blew their horns.

As fond as his memories are, Rickett is looking forward to the changes that will come with the new fixed-span bridge. Improvements to the causeway — including green space, a walkway and a new sea wall — and a redesign of Route 302’s intersection with Route 114 are part of the $8.4 million project.

Rickett, owner of The Dragonfly gift shop, which sells the work of local artists, thinks the project may prompt a renaissance in downtown Naples. He envisions more pedestrians enjoying the area and additional business locating in what he thinks could resemble a Bar Harbor on the lake.

“You’ve got to move on with the times,” Rickett said outside his shop Friday. “And we’re going to get a beautiful causeway out of it.”

The replacement of the old bridge, which has spanned the meeting point of Long Lake and Brandy Pond for six decades, was a touchy subject just a couple of years ago.

Some in town feared that the fixed-span replacement proposed by the state Department of Transportation would hurt marinas and other businesses that cater to boaters.

A fixed bridge, they argued, would prevent larger sailboats and the Songo River Queen II from crossing from Long Lake to Brandy Pond, which provides access to the historic Songo Locks, the Songo River and Sebago Lake. “Save the Bridge” signs appeared around the causeway.

Others were glad that traffic on Route 302 would no longer back up every couple hours, when the swing bridge opened to let boats through, one at a time, on summer days.

They also noted the big difference in cost — the estimates in 2008 were $14.5 million for a new swing bridge without causeway improvements and about $8 million for a fixed bridge with improvements.

On Friday, community members and transportation officials reflected on those contentious times — and how far they have come — at a groundbreaking ceremony.

“Two years ago, we didn’t have a common vision at all,” Deputy Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said from behind a podium on a freshly cleared area where the new bridge will be anchored.

Dan Allen, owner of Causeway Marina, said earlier in the day that he and other opponents realized after several years that they were fighting for a lost cause. Allen said they realized that something had to be done about the bridge, and that there was an opportunity to gain something more in return.

Allen is among the former opponents who joined a town committee that has been working with Department of Transportation.

The preliminary construction for the project began about a week ago. The swing bridge, which is about 60 years old, will remain in use while the replacement is built alongside it. The timetable calls for the new bridge to open in May 2012 and the completion of the entire project a year later.

“People had different opinions for what we wanted, but as things progressed we found we were all on the same page and didn’t know it,” Allen said.

He said he is “100 percent” happy with the plan — something he couldn’t have imagined himself feeling four years ago.

Consensus formed around one aspect of the fixed-bridge plan: an opening that is 30 feet wide with clearance of at least 12½ feet. That would ensure that nearly all boats would be able to pass underneath.

The glaring exception is the Songo River Queen II, a 93-foot-long, double-deck paddle wheeler whose excursions include a tour that starts on Long Lake, goes through the bridge to Brandy Pond and through the Songo Lock, part of a canal system that was active in the 19th century.

On Friday, the boat — too tall to pass under the new bridge — was docked on Long Lake within view of the ceremony.

“There she sits as a stark reminder that change of this significance does not come without sacrifice,” said Robert Neault, chairman of the town committee, now called the Causeway Restoration Committee.

Don Toms, general manager of the Point Sebago Resort in nearby Casco, once worried about how a fixed bridge would affect the resort. Now, he believes it won’t be a problem because the clearance will accommodate the motorboats that the resort’s guests tend to use.

“Even the larger ones can make it under,” Toms said. “If it was lower, it definitely would be a problem.”

The new bridge will be about 100 feet long, just north of the old one, farther into Long Lake. Part of Route 302 will be reconfigured to meet the new bridge, and some areas where the road now runs will be used for green space.

A new walkway will pass under the new bridge, and an amphitheater, benches and landscaped areas are planned.

The town is expected to contribute $400,000 to cover elements, like premium lighting fixtures, that aren’t within the scope of what the Department of Transportation would do.

Darryl Murray, proprietor of the Freedom Cafe and Pub, hopes his business will be OK through the construction disruptions that will accompany the project.

He is not as optimistic as Rickett about the causeway improvements, saying that while the rendering is lovely, he doesn’t know whether the reality will match that vision.

Murray agreed that the bridge needed an upgrade, but he worries that local businesses will be hit up for help.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]