PALMYRA — State transportation officials visiting Palmyra on Thursday night for comments on a proposed bridge reconstruction on Route 2 heard one message loud and clear: The old bridge is not safe; please rebuild it, quickly.
But they also heard several other messages, including that a reconstruction of the bridge could adversely affect a dangerous intersection to the west.
The bridge under consideration is east of the Ell Hill intersection, the intersection of routes 2 and 152. This junction was named the third-worst intersection in the state several years ago, based on Maine Department of Transportation accident statistics.
Several residents attending the Thursday night hearing questioned whether replacing a narrow, steel-topped bridge with a wider, untopped structure would cause even greater speeding and more accidents at the nearby intersection.
Residents told DOT representatives that tractor-trailers travel far in excess of the speed limit on Route 2 and are frequently overweight. Because the existing bridge is narrow — only 22 feet wide — and has a steel top, many trucks are forced to slow when approaching the structure.
When Norman Baker of DOT said this appeared to be an enforcement problem, residents agreed but said DOT must take the speeding situation into consideration when redesigning the bridge.
Baker explained that design of the bridge had not begun and that funding was not even assured. “We are in the very preliminary stages” of gathering comments from townspeople and neighbors who will be affected by the project, he said. All the public comment will be combined with studies of traffic, safety, environmental impact and costs to create a design and alternatives.
The bridge was built in 1931, said Baker. It is 22 feet wide and 200 feet long. He estimated that 5,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge, of which 13 percent are trucks. This was amplified during the hearing itself, when 15 tractor-trailers noisily charged past the town hall during the 45-minute meeting, at the rate of one truck every three minutes.
Several landowners next to the bridge were concerned that widening and changing the structure would cause them to lose part of their land. Two abutters said their land could be used if it would straighten out curves preceding the bridge and make the approaches safer.
Resident Louise Humphrey pointed out that the old road, used before the existing bridge was built, passes directly through her garage, on the north side of the bridge. But many at the meeting favored moving the bridge slightly south, to help correct the curved approaches.
Baker explained that if it gets funded and built, the new bridge would be 40 feet wide, consisting of two 12-foot lanes and two 8-foot shoulders, and would be no wider than the 40-foot-wide approaches that now exist.
He assured residents that DOT would work with them in creating any new design. A draft of the projects under consideration for funding should be released in about a month, he said. Then the final project list will be complete about May and must have the Legislature’s approval.
If the bridge is on the funding list, Baker said, construction could begin as early as the spring of 1996. “The one good thing,” he said, “is that during construction, traffic will have to slow down considerably.”