ELLSWORTH – The Maine Department of Transportation has heeded the city’s concerns about its recent decision to prohibit heavy vehicles from traveling on the Route 180 bridge over Graham Lake.
As a result, life will get more difficult for motorists for awhile.
All vehicles, regardless of weight, will be barred from the span for at least one week while the DOT builds a temporary bridge.
Construction of the new bridge will begin at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, and is expected to be completed by the end of that week, barring any serious weather delays.
The construction was timed to coincide with a week of school vacation.
“There still will be a lot of imposition for people on that side of [Graham] Lake, but it’s got to be done,” Ellsworth City Council Chairman Gary Fortier said Monday. “I think, unfortunately, that’s probably the best of all the bad scenarios.”
Despite the fact that DOT workers likely will be toiling overtime to get the temporary span completed, any amount of time that Route 180 is closed will be inconvenient for residents and businesses.
R.F. Jordan & Sons Construction Inc. is one of many businesses that will be affected.
“We have a major subdivision on the other side of the dam; it’s definitely going to compromise that a little,” company president Patrick Jordan said Monday. “I’m glad that the state is stepping up, but my problem is: Why didn’t they know about this before.”
The DOT informed city officials in January that the current bridge was structurally unsound and would need to be renovated soon. The decision was made to post the bridge to one lane and restrict vehicles weighing more than 40,000 pounds, effective Feb. 8.
Ellsworth City Manager Stephen Gunty and others pleaded with the DOT to give the city more time to prepare for the impact of the bridge posting.
The result was a compromise.
“I’m not sure we went in trying to compromise. Experts have told us there is a safety problem and we’re planning around the decision,” Fortier said.
DOT Spokesman Herb Thomson said the temporary bridge will be able to accommodate vehicles up to 100,000 pounds one way. Because the bridge is already in the DOT’s inventory, it won’t come at a significant cost.
“I think given the situation we’re very pleased that we’re able to do this” Thomson said Monday by telephone. “Our bridge maintenance people are very dedicated to what they do. This is one of those instances where they know the work that they do will be appreciated.”
Fortier agreed that the temporary bridge will benefit the city greatly.
“It allows commerce to continue on that side of the lake,” Fortier said. “Without that, it would be posted at 20 tons, and economically it would strangle that part of the city.”
“I would rather put up with a week, than put up with a 20-ton bridge for years.”
During the week of Feb. 19-24 while the bridge is closed, law enforcement and fire calls will be handled through temporary mutual aid agreements.
A meeting scheduled for Feb. 22 to discuss the DOT’s decision to post the bridge has been canceled in light of the recent agreement.