Officials from the Maine Department of Transportation announced Tuesday they will replace the bridge on Route 1 in Woolwich just north of the Taste of Maine restaurant after a 2017 evaluation found structural deficiencies in the 86-year-old bridge. (Photo courtesy of Devan Eaton)

WOOLWICH – The Maine Department of Transportation says the Route 1 bridge in Woolwich should be replaced because of its age. But at least one member of the Woolwich Select Board said he’s worried about the impact the $30 million-$35 million replacement project would have on traffic.

MDOT doesn’t yet have a firm plan for the project yet but expects construction to begin in the winter of 2021. The work will take two to three years to complete, according to Devan Eaton, MDOT project manager. 

When the bridge, which is just north of the Taste of Maine restaurant, was built in 1939 it was made with steel and expected to last approximately 75 years. Eighty-six years later, bridges are typically made with a combination of concrete and steel, according to Eaton. The bridge was widened in 1957 and 1977.

“The bridge is still structurally sound and safe to drive on, it’s just an older, outdated system,” said Eaton. 

In a 2017 evaluation by the MDOT, the structural soundness of the bridge was given a rating of four on a one-to-nine scale. 

Eaton said the project is expected to cost anywhere between $30 to $35 million dollars. MDOT applied for a federal grant up to $25 million in July that would help cover costs. The MDOT expects to hear in December whether it was awarded the grant. 

“When using federal funds, we’re looking to replace the bridge’s structure as a part of this project,” said Eaton. “We’re not just looking to nurse the bridge along.” 

MDOT also faces challenges posed by the bridge’s environment. The nearby saltwater is corrosive and accelerates the rusting process, and the bridge was built on marine clay, which is softer and more difficult to build on than rock or firmer soil, according to Eaton.

According to Eaton, an average of 19,000 vehicles per day use the bridge.

David King Sr., Woolwich Select Board chairman, said he is looking forward to having the project done but is concerned about the impacts on already-already congested Route 1 traffic. 

“(The board’s) fear is, depending on how they do it, they’ll back up traffic and people will start using the side roads in Woolwich,” said King. “If they only leave one lane open for traffic, the traffic will back all the way up to Cook’s Corner. The roads around here were never designed for the traffic it has now.” 

Eaton said he shares similar concerns and hopes to keep at least one lane of traffic open during construction because “the roads surrounding Route 1 are not capable of handling Route 1 traffic.”

The Route 1 bridge has one lane of traffic traveling in each direction, as well as a center turning lane.

Eaton said public informational meetings will occur, but none have been scheduled.

At the same time, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust is looking into a parallel project that would restore the saltwater marsh and diminish tidal flooding that occurs at the junction of Route 1 and George Wright Road, just beyond the bridge the MDOT will replace.

The land trust was recently awarded a $250,000 grant to explore solutions to allow saltwater to flow in and out of the wetlands at the junction. Culverts were installed under both the George Wright Road and Route 1, but they aren’t effective enough at allowing saltwater to flow upstream into the 140 acres of wetlands.

The area floods in extreme tides and storm surges, which both poses a risk to road infrastructure and restricts migration of wildlife.

“The grant funding is going into monitoring the marsh and figuring out what bridge structures would work in the marsh,” said Ruth Indrick, the trust’s project coordinator. “At this point, we’re working to collect data to see what needs to be done for infrastructure resilience as well as natural resilience.” 

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