The Maine Department of Transportation will hold a meeting in the Woolwich town office regarding the replacement of 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 — Wednesday, representatives from the Maine Department of Transportation detail plans for the replacement of the 86-year-old Route 1 bridge in Woolwich.

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“The bridge is still structurally sound and safe to drive on, it’s just an older, outdated system,” said Eaton.

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

The project is estimated to cost $30 million-$35 million, which will be partially funded by a federal program. Eaton said construction is expected to begin in the winter of 2021.

Last month, Sen. Susan Collins, the chairwoman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced Maine will receive a total of $44.6 million to fund two transportation projects, one of which is the bridge placement project in Woolwich. According to a statement from Collins, $25 million will go toward replacing the Route 1 bridge.

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.

Tomorrow’s meeting will also be used to gauge concerns from citizens, some of which Woolwich selectmen have already voiced.

In September, Woolwich Select Board Chairman David King Sr. said he’s looking forward to having the project done but is concerned about the impacts on the 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.”

The Route 1 bridge has one lane of traffic traveling in each direction, as well as a center turning lane. Eaton said he does not want to divert Route 1 traffic onto smaller backroads.

“Our plan of attack is to maintain traffic on site,” said Eaton. “We don’t want to put Route 1 traffic anywhere but Route 1.”

DOT representatives will also discuss a parallel feasibility study for tidal restoration to the Back River Marsh. The project 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.

Culverts were installed under both the George Wright Road and Route 1, but they aren’t effective enough at allowing salt water to flow upstream into the 140 acres of wetlands.

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

The meeting will take place tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Woolwich Town Office.

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