The end result will be a new look for a portion of downtown Westbrook.

Construction crews arrived in Westbrook on Monday, as activity in Saccarappa Park signaled the beginning of a lengthy bridge project – one that will alter the landscape of the downtown.

The design of the new Bridge Street bridge and pedestrian walkway project, headed by the Maine Department of Transportation with added funds from the city toward streetscape enhancements, looks to shift Westbrook’s downtown to a more walkable and business-friendly destination.

The state’s role is to overhaul the aging bridge, built in 1956, which will include a complete realignment of the intersection of Bridge and Main streets. The $6.2 million project will be funded mostly by the state, with related public improvements paid for by the city, at an estimated cost of about $1.4 million. However, after offsetting grants and state compensation, costs to Westbrook will fall to under $1 million.

City Engineer Eric Dudley said Tuesday that the most visible change during the next few weeks will be the addition of two large cranes on either side of the new bridge. In terms of traffic, he said, the existing bridge will not be closed and dismantled until after the new bridge is complete.

Dudley said the start of the project, which entails building the large cranes and abutments, only requires two small construction crews.

Jack Turner, the project superintendent for Reed & Reed Inc., the general contractor for the project, said Wednesday that the crews are just getting settled at the site. While he spoke, a truck carrying a large piece of a crane pulled in.

The new bridge will traverse diagonally from its current location to the Bridge Street Spur behind the Edwards Block, and tie into Main Street at a new intersection. The section of Bridge Street between Vallee Square and the bridge will essentially become access for the adjacent businesses and parking, with no need for a traffic light.

In the middle of the possible two-year construction zone are a number of businesses, most of which are excited to see the end result.

Joe O’Neil, the chief operating officer of Portland Pie Co., located in the Edwards Block, said last week that he’s not worried about what the bridge construction could mean for business.

O’Neil also serves on the executive committee of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, a position that has given him a positive outlook on what the bridge project could mean for the immediate area.

“It will create more green space around the restaurant, which is obviously attractive,” he said, about the coinciding streetscape improvements. “It will improve upon the aesthetics of the downtown area.”

O’Neil says the company is “keeping an open mind” on the potential impact on businesses in the immediate area, and is trusting the city and state to create necessary access.

Joyce Talbot, the owner of T&T Development, which owns the Edwards Block building, said Tuesday that she’s optimistic about the construction.

“We are very happy for the construction, and the city has been wonderful keeping us up to date on the schedule,” she said.

During construction, crews will be using much of Saccarappa Park, located behind the Edwards Block building, to store equipment, also known as a “lay-down” area. On Tuesday, workers were clearing brush from the edge of the river and removing a portion of an overlook to the falls to make way for a crane. The materials moved will be replaced.

After the project is completed, the area of the Bridge Street Spur will look vastly different. The portion of Bridge Street featuring the Frog & Turtle restaurant will no longer be the major intersection, but will be transformed into a more pedestrian friendly area with access to the riverwalk and a new pedestrian bridge spanning the Presumpscot River.

As part of the city’s investment, entrances to the pedestrian walkway will offer scenic overlooks on each side. The southerly side will directly connect to the existing Riverwalk, with preliminary studies now in place to explore construction of the Riverwalk on the northern side of the Presumpscot.

During a June City Council meeting, Tom Emery of Stantec Consulting, the firm charged with designing the public improvements, said new sidewalks would allow for outside dining, with new landscaping also being added. Emery said the project falls in line with the city’s goal for getting more foot traffic downtown.

“The main accomplishments are the widening of sidewalks for outdoor dining, and enhancement of the pedestrian experience,” he said.

However, James Tranchemontagne, the owner of Frog & Turtle, isn’t completely sold on the plans. Tranchemontagne said Wednesday that while he doesn’t see construction hurting business, he’s more concerned for the finished project, including parking and access.

“Having only one access to the parking lot behind Portland Pie raises concerns for ease of parking, if there is an accident or worse, a fire,” he said.

He said his biggest concern, however, is the height of the new bridge.

“For years, citizens and businesses have said to invest in the river, now we are ruining views of the river by raising the bridge,” he said.

Dudley said the heightened bridge is “a matter of inches.”

“The change couldn’t be too much as they have to meet the existing grades on the two approaches,” he said about the change.

Reed & Reed is no stranger to Westbrook. It constructed the Cumberland Mills Bridge and Riverwalk boardwalk projects. Grondin Construction, based in Gorham, is a subcontractor for the project.

Reed & Reed, based in Woolwich, has built notable bridge projects in Maine, including the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge between Portland and South Portland, and the $75 million Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Prospect.

Turner, who also supervised the Cumberland Mills Bridge project, said with a winter start date, it can be slow going.

“This cold weather definitely slows you down,” he said. “A day like today is really quite good.” It was sunny and in the mid-20s on Wednesday morning.

Dudley said that the “aggressive goal” from Reed & Reed is to have the new bridge in place and functional by December, but said if specific targets for pavement and other goals are missed, it might not be ready until the spring or summer of 2016.

“If they meet this accelerated schedule, then they can begin demo-ing the existing bridge next winter, and start the majority of the city project,” he said. “That’s way ahead of what they’re allotted for time.”

The project is allotted a 30-month timeframe, which ends in June 2017.

Turner said his only concern is for water flows in the river during the spring months.

“You’ve seen what the river does if you get a lot of rain,” he said.

But, he said, the Cumberland Mills Bridge opened eight months ahead of schedule.

“This one will open ahead of schedule, too,” he said.

Workers from Reed & Reed Inc. are setting up Tuesday for an estimated two-year bridge construction project in Westbrook. The project will reshape downtown Westbrook. Staff photo by Andrew Rice

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