For decades, officials have discussed building a second bridge over the Kennebec River in Skowhegan to help relieve congestion on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges, shown above in 2022, which carry traffic on and over the downtown island. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — Town officials are moving forward with a location for a second bridge crossing the Kennebec River as a top priority for improving downtown traffic, though the construction of the long-discussed project is still likely several years away.

The proposed bridge would cross the river near Skowhegan’s downtown, from somewhere near the intersection of North Avenue and Water Street, effectively connecting U.S. routes 2 and 201 on either side of the river.

The exact location, total cost and potential impacts have yet to be studied. But the Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to send the idea to a public meeting for more input so the state Department of Transportation can develop a more detailed proposal.

Residents would eventually have to give the green light at the June Town Meeting in order for Maine DOT to further study the proposal. Construction would likely be funded entirely by federal and state dollars, according to Maine DOT.

Proponents of the project, first considered nearly 30 years ago, have said it would reduce truck traffic through the downtown and congestion on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges that carry traffic on and off the downtown island, which could lead to other economic and public safety benefits.

The project took on new urgency in recent weeks after December’s historic flooding forced the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges to close to nonemergency traffic for nearly two days, cutting off one side of town from the other and threatening first responders’ ability to respond to emergencies.


“Dec. 18 was an eye opener,” said David Bucknam, Skowhegan’s police chief and interim town manager. The river nearly crested over the existing bridges, and large debris swept downstream could have severely damaged them, Bucknam said.

A new bridge would span the river without pillars, meaning it would be safe to use even when the river floods, Bucknam said.

At Bucknam’s urging, a town committee that has been working with Maine DOT on overall traffic improvements in Skowhegan’s downtown decided Tuesday to recommend to selectmen that the bridge be a priority among several other related traffic projects under consideration.

That move marks a departure from when the town began working with the state on its Village Partnership Initiative, or VPI, in 2022. Officials said then they were focusing on other traffic improvements downtown while waiting to see how other projects, including a new elementary school and the whitewater River Park, moved along.

Along with the public safety concerns raised by Bucknam, the committee also agreed Tuesday that deciding on the bridge first will inform how it proceeds with those other traffic improvements.

Other proposals on the table as part of the Village Partnership Initiative include changing some roads from one way to two way, reversing one-way roads, reducing the number of lanes in some areas, improving intersections, widening sidewalks, and creating bike lanes.


“Most improvement alternatives that we are considering really start with that second river crossing,” said Tony Grande, a transportation engineer for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., the consultant working with the town on the VPI. “This second bridge is the first domino.”

Also spurring the latest push for the new bridge: The Margaret Chase Smith Bridges are due for major maintenance in seven to 10 years, according to Grande.

The state would need to build a $20 million temporary bridge while it does that maintenance, so it would be a waste not to explore building a permanent second bridge now, Grande said.

Despite general agreement among the committee and selectmen to keep the design process moving, the proposed location of the second bridge would have effects on both sides of the river.

On the south side of the river, about 10 homes could be affected, though the exact number depends on the finalized location of the bridge.

The state would strive for an “open and transparent process” as it determines whether any properties need to be acquired, according to Martin Rooney, a project manager for Maine DOT.


“There would be a negotiation process,” Rooney said. “Ultimately, eminent domain could be on the table.”

Meanwhile, on the north side of the river, the proposed location of the bridge could impact the Veterans Memorial Park on Water Street, which had previously drawn concerns from residents.

Officials said Tuesday that if building the bridge required taking over the park, compromises include moving the memorial to a different site or incorporating the memorial into the new bridge.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t for it,” said Bucknam, who is a veteran himself, about the bridge’s location. “The more I’ve dug into it … it seems to be the right fit.”

Despite those concerns, support among residents for the idea of a second bridge has been strong. A survey last year drew 441 responses, with 74% supporting a second river crossing, according to Grande, the consultant. In 2004 nonbinding referendum, residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of a second bridge.

The town first created a committee to study building a new bridge in 1997. Since then, committees and Maine DOT have considered the project multiple times.

In 2020, as part of Maine DOT’s latest involvement, six locations for the bridge were proposed. Those proposals were later narrowed down to two in 2021.

The other of the final two options, farther downstream near the Great Eddy, was ruled out after further study, Grande said Tuesday.

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