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Collins to seek federal monies for bridge replacement
The Martin Memorial Bridge, a rusted, three-span, steel-trussed bridge over the Androscoggin River on Rt. 232 is slated for replacement. But for that to happen, the state has asked U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to secure $5.2 million in federal transportation funding. Here, Collins and Maine Dept. of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt led a tour of the bridge with state and local officials last Thursday. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
Following the tour of the Martin Memorial Bridge, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Maine Dept. of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt discuss what is needed to build the state's case for $5.2 million in federal transportation funding for its replacement. The state says this bridge is a top priority and it is willing to put up the remaining $4.1 million if the federal money comes through. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
RUMFORD POINT -- A rusted, three-span, steel-trussed bridge over the Androscoggin River that tops the Maine's list for replacement was toured Thursday by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins with local and state officials.
Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, is worked with the Maine Dept. of Transportation to secure $5.2 million in federal transportation funding to help replace the 57-year-old Martin Memorial Bridge. She has been successful in getting millions of dollars under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery federal fund for state transportation projects.
While country and local police closed off traffic to the Rt. 232 bridge, Collins, MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt and local officials walked the length of the 600-foot bridge and back. A sign on the bridge reads "Built by Bethlehem Steel -- 1955."
"I can always be a better advocate when I've seen it personally," noted Collins.
After completing the inspection, she voiced her observations.
"This bridge is in really bad condition. While it is still safe to travel on, it's clearly deteriorated greatly. There's more rust than there is green paint. The deck is also deteriorating and it's very narrow (24 feet wide). It's not up to date in any way. And that's not surprising. It was built 57 years ago and it's come to the end of its useful life."
"It's a particularly important bridge because it's services so many vehicles every day. More than 1,700 vehicles, including 16 percent of which are commercial trucks, are traveling over this bridge every day," said Collins.
"What I was most amazed at are the dents at the top of the trusses, and that just shows it's too small to service the trucks that are going across it. It's very important to the mill of this area," she concluded.
"This really is an urgent priority. We want to avoid having the bridge be posted. That would mean that the heavier trucks would not be allowed on it and would have to make a detour of some 31 miles. And at a time when diesel prices are so high, that has a real economic impact on the entire area," said Collins.
Bernhardt said the state has pledged to pay 40 percent of the $9.3 million cost for the project. "If we can get the 50 or 60 (percent), then we can do this."
Collins responded, "That helps me make the case for it. The federal DOT likes to see a strong contribution from the state.
"And that makes sense. It's all leveraging. We try to do that with municipalities. We try to leverage their monies to get things done," replied Bernhardt.
Collins said, "This is the state's number one priority so I'm going to do everything I can. I will do all I can to make a really strong case, and to point out the state is putting in 40 percent of the money. That is a substantial contribution, particularly in these tough times."
"The federal department is likely to appreciate the fact that the state is willing to ante up its share. A lot of the projects from applications call for a 20-80 percent split. And at a time when federal resources are so scarce, seeing that the state is willing to put in 40 percent of the funding should be a good selling point," she said.
But she cautioned that the competition for the $500 million available is intense. For example, in the last round of funding, there were 46 projects funded nationwide, out of 850 applications. "We'll face that same kind of competition this time, but we'll do our best to deliver."
On the transportation appropriations subcommittee, Collins says, "I've worked very closely with the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, to provide funding for what are called Tiger grants that are ideal for this kind of project. So when I return to Washington next week, I will be in touch with the secretary to advocate for the funding for this project."
"We have so many infrastructure needs in this state, but thus far, we've been very successful. This is the fourth round of grants, and Maine is the only state that has received funding in each round of the grants," she said.
Collins noted, "I expect that the decision are going to made either at the end of this month or early in June. So I'm working with the local people here, the state commissioner to put together as much information to build the case as possible."
If successful, construction could start next year, with a completion of the bridge in 2015. During construction, the old bridge will remain open.
The new bridge would be built about upstream by 600 feet and tie it in where three dilapidated buildings now stand. The channel is narrower there, so it means building a shorter, less costly span and siting it for greater sight distance on Route 2 than what's currently available.
The new bridge would be 32 feet wide, curb to curb. It will have 11-foot-wide travel lanes and five-foot-wide shoulders to better accommodate snowmobile traffic.
State officials believe that the new alignment, with 750 feet of sight distance in either direction, would help at the turn and be a vast improvement over the current intersection, which has experienced a high volumn of accident within a tight curve on Rt. 2 there.
Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he and Police Chief Stacy Carter recent talked with MDOT about safety concerns in the area and changing the gradual speed limits. What currently goes from 55 to 35 mph as motorists approach the village would be reduced to 40 three-tenths of a mile from the village on the
Bethel side and to 40 two-tenths of a mile from the village on the Rumford side. In the village, the speed would then be dropped to 30 mph.