If you haven’t had a chance to bike across the new Veterans’ Memorial Bridge, you should check it out. The new bridge is a great improvement and a commuters’ dream! Executive Director, Nancy Grant and Board Member John Brooking comment in this Mainely Media Article about the benefits of the new bridge.
Construction workers from Reed & Reed wait for opening ceremonies to begin at the new Veterans Memorial Bridge on Thursday, June 28. Reed & Reed finished the two-year project on time and on budget, said Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt. (Jack Flagler photos) The commute for those traveling over the Fore River between South Portland and Portland just got a little easier.
The new $65 million Veterans Memorial Bridge, a structure that was two years in the making, officially opened Thursday, June 28.
Reed & Reed, the contractor based in Woolwich that worked on the bridge, finished the project “on time and on budget,” said Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt.
The new bridge was a “design-build” project for Reed & Reed, which meant the company implemented its own designs to streamline the process.
“We know what we build well,” said Reed & Reed project manager Charlie Guerrette, who added designbuild projects allowed workers at the company to “play to our strengths” and complete projects in a costefficient manner.
Jack Parker, CEO of Reed & Reed, said the new bridge was built to “the highest quality standards.”
Parker added that he expects the bridge to last 100 years. The old Veterans Memorial Bridge lasted just over 50 years. It was built in 1954 as a monument to Korean War Veterans. Construction crews will immediately begin taking it down and expect to be done by the end of December. Ted Talbot, public information officer for the Maine DOT, said “deterioration was starting to take place” on the old bridge, and safety concerns made replacing it a priority for the state. Guerrette said the bridge deck on the old structure had “a couple of issues,” including a pothole that could cause trouble for drivers, as well as minimal space between vehicle and pedestrian lanes. “The quality of the ride across the bridge is going to be far superior,” Guerrette said.
Talbot added that the new structure is a “much more people-friendly bridge.”
Talbot also said the Maine DOT “desperately wanted” to open the bridge in time for the influx of tourists that will come to the state for the Fourth of July. He said the crew at Reed & Reed “had to do some hurrying up,” even paving through Wednesday night ahead of Thursday morning’s ceremony.
Guerrette said the bridge would have opened to traffic Thursday morning whether his crew paved the night before or not, and he noted that bridge is still not 100 percent complete. But Guerrette said workers were able to do some “dressing up” to get the bridge looking “as close to perfect” as possible before the ceremony. Most of the money to build the new bridge was provided by the federal government, which put up $50.8 million, or 78 percent of the total cost, to fund the project. The ceremony Thursday morning featured a brief speech from Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, who praised those involved with the project. Mendez said the two years of work on the project is good for both Maine’s travelers and its economy. “This is what President Obama means when he talks about ‘building an America that is built to last,’” Mendez said. Mendez, Parker and Bernhardt were joined at the ceremony Thursday morning by Maine first lady Ann LePage and Col. Jon Jansen, chief of staff of the Maine Army National Guard. Lt. Col. Peter Ogden, director of Maine’s Bureau of Veterans’ Services, laid a wreath at the base of the monument on the bridge that honors veterans. LePage and Sgt. Jack Stearns, a Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, then cut the ribbon to officially open the bridge. The new bridge can safely accommodate 23,000 vehicles a day, according to project manager Jeraldine Chow-Herrera of Portland strategic planning firm Barton & Gingold. But it’s not just drivers who will notice the impact of the structure. John Brooking is a Westbrook resident who rides his bike to his job as a computer programmer at Sappi Fine Paper’s office on John Roberts Road in South Portland. When Brooking traveled into Portland after work, he biked over the old bridge. “It takes some guts riding in the middle of a lane on that bridge,” Brooking said, referring to the bike lanes located next to the vehicle lanes on the old structure.
And while he said he never had a close call, the new bridge is a huge improvement for cyclists.
“People with families are going to be more comfortable bringing their kids down here,” said Brooking, a member of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, the largest bicycle advocacy group in the state. Nancy Grant, the executive director of the organization, had stronger words for the old bridge, saying she had to avoid obstacles such as broken glass at times when she biked between Portland and South Portland. The new bridge features a pedestrian and bike path separated from the vehicle lanes by a traffic barrier. Guerrette said the old path was slightly raised above the existing road deck, but there still wasn’t much to stop a larger vehicle from coming up over the curb. The new bridge will also feature a number of “bump-outs” that will allow bikers or pedestrians to stop to rest or enjoy views of the water. Crews from Reed & Reed are still working to finish the 12-foot wide walkway, which will be open for use in the fall, when crews finish building the access point on the South Portland side of the bridge.
South Portland Mayor Patti Smith said the new bridge was an example of a “really wellproved plan and execution,” and she noted that the new project is symbolic of the closer connection between the cities of South Portland and Portland.
“I hope that other communities see this bridge and aspire to create a design-build in all their communities,” Smith said. “If everybody would be thinking about that, we’d have more bridges like this, and I hope this can be a standard so others can look to this and say, ‘Let’s do it like the Veterans Bridge.’”