CARRABASSETT VALLEY – Temporary bridges are expected to open Tuesday over the waterways in Carrabassett Valley where two bridges on Route 27 collapsed during Tropical Storm Irene.

Construction started Wednesday on the project to reopen the small but vital section of highway that has been closed since Sunday afternoon, when raging floodwaters washed away the bridges over the Carrabassett River and Brackett Brook.

The temporary bridges will reopen the section of highway to all traffic, including commercial vehicles that use the road as a major delivery route heading north to Quebec.

Permanent replacement bridges are scheduled to be finished by Nov. 18, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation. It’s still unclear how much taxpayers will pay for the temporary structures and permanent bridges, he said.

The project was awarded to Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich through a fast-tracked contracting method, approved by Gov. Paul LePage this week to allow the state to forgo the public bidding process because of the emergency, Latti said in a release.

The Department of Transportation interviewed five pre-qualified construction companies. The companies were picked based on work history, cost estimates for the work and their ability to do the work fast, he said.

Latti declined to release the cost estimates because he believes it could affect ongoing negotiations with Reed & Reed Inc.

According to a prepared statement from LePage, the fast-tracked contracting program is a way to accelerate construction that has been approved by organizations including the Federal Highway Administration.

“Getting the Route 27 corridor back in action is essential to Maine’s economic relationship with Canada, as well as the western Maine tourism industry and the way of life for area residents,” LePage said.

People who relied on that section of Route 27 to drive north of Carrabassett Valley have had to take detours that add 15 to 34 miles to their trips, depending on where they start.

The collapsed bridges have also forced many homeowners and businesses near Sugarloaf Mountain to use private roads to access Route 27. The access road to the resort was effectively cut off from the highway.

A daily average of 3,200 vehicles use the section of road where the bridges collapsed, according to state figures.

The bridge replacements are eligible for federal emergency relief money set aside for highways that meet guidelines tied to their importance in the region.

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

[email protected]