Traffic travels across the Veranda Street bridge on I-295 in Portland on Monday morning. The reconfigured Veranda Street will have two 11-foot-wide travel lanes, two 5-foot-wide bicycle lanes, a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side and a multi-use path on the south side. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

One of the busiest pieces of highway in Maine was reopened in time for Monday morning rush hour traffic after construction crews finished a fast-moving bridge replacement hours ahead of schedule.

All four traffic lanes of Interstate 295 reopened shortly before 7 a.m., about 60 hours after five miles of interstate was shut down. Over the weekend, the bridge over Veranda Street in Portland was demolished and replaced. Construction was finished about four hours ahead of schedule, earning Cianbro, the lead contractor, a hefty bonus.

“We’re really pleased with the way things went this weekend and proud of the final result,” said Maine Department of Transportation Communications Director Paul Merrill. “It was a big team effort involving MaineDOT, our contracting partners, and the members of the traveling public who heeded the warnings to steer clear and were understanding of the short-term disruptions.”

The 60-year-old Veranda bridge was deteriorating and beyond its useful life. To replace the bridge without causing extended disruption, MaineDOT decided to use accelerated bridge construction, a new technique for the department.

Replacement bridge decks were built near the old bridge, then installed using massive vehicles called self-propelled modular transporters after the existing span was demolished and the rubble removed.

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Demolition of the deteriorating bridge began Friday evening and continued Saturday. The two sections of prefabricated bridge deck – each 80 feet long, 47 feet wide and weighing 400 tons – were then moved into place.

Construction workers put in 12-hour shifts to get the project done on time, and there were about 90 workers on site each day, Merrill said. The primary contractor, Pittsfield-based Cianbro, worked with Shaw Brothers Construction of Gorham on the project.

Cianbro earned a $600,000 bonus for finishing work and reopening the highway before 7 a.m. The bonus pay was the maximum allowed to the company under its contract with the state. Had reopening been delayed past 11 a.m., Cianbro could have incurred penalties of up to $550,000.

Traffic moves southbound across the Veranda Street bridge on I-295 in Portland on Monday morning. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The bridge replacement was originally scheduled to take place in October but it was postponed until this month after crews discovered that some of the geofoam blocks that make up the bridge foundation were damaged, and new ones were hard to get because of a national shortage of certain construction materials.

The project’s construction contract was for roughly $18.1 million. The total project cost including engineering and design work was about $20.8 million. The fast replacement technique was more expensive, but less disruptive, than traditional construction, which could have caused traffic snarls in the area for years, Merrill said.

I-295 between Exit 9 in Portland and Exit 10 in Falmouth is one of the heaviest-traveled stretches of road in Maine. At least 53,000 vehicles a day use the road in April. Traffic can swell to more than 70,000 vehicles a day in the summer.

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“We understand that we paid a bit of a premium to do this in four days as opposed to four years, but we think the added investment is worthwhile on this project,” Merrill said.

Even with the success of the Veranda Street project, there are no immediate plans to use a similar accelerated bridge construction technique in Maine. A busy road, a short, narrow bridge and many homes and businesses nearby made sped-up construction a good fit for this project, Merrill said, but it doesn’t make sense for every bridge replacement.

“Pursuing conventional bridge replacement techniques would have led to long-term traffic disruptions that could have very well lasted three or four years,” Merrill said. “The rapid replacement methods we chose were a better option for this project. We have no immediate plans to do any other bridge replacements this way.”

Work continued under the Veranda Street bridge in Portland as traffic lanes reopened on I-295 on Monday morning. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A section of Veranda Street that closed last week as part of the project was reopened Monday afternoon. However, a traffic reconfiguration of Veranda Street underneath the new bridge will continue until late this year.

The current road configuration under the bridge is confusing and has contributed to a high number of crashes at the intersection of Veranda and the I-295 southbound ramp. The project will reconfigure the road and add modern traffic signals at the end of the Exit 9 ramps, which are expected to improve safety.

When the project is completed, the reconfigured Veranda Street will consist of two 11-foot-wide vehicle travel lanes, two 5-foot-wide bicycle lanes, a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side of the road and a multi-use path on the south side that extends to the Martin’s Point Bridge.

The project will convert nearly 1.5 acres of road and median into green space.

Work will continue for months and will include some overnight lane closures. MaineDOT also is planning another paving project in the area in October.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

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