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MaineDOT to Invest $30M to Replace, Enhance Bridge Over I-95 in Augusta

Thu August 17, 2023 - Northeast Edition #19
Kennebec Journal

Construction is expected to begin this fall on a multi-year project to replace a heavily traveled bridge that carries U.S. Highway 202 over Interstate 95 in Augusta, Maine, and increase the area's accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists, the Kennebec Journal reported Aug. 3.

Devan Eaton, a senior project manager of the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), said the bridge, built in 1955, has failing paint, an eroding slope, rusting steel beams, worn-out bearings, cracked and breaking concrete, and does not provide enough clearance for vehicles passing below.

While the transportation officials in the United States generally expect today's bridges and other structures to last between 75 to 100 years, this particular bridge — near the Turnpike Mall — has had a rough 68 years of life. Replacing it could require up to four years of work at a cost of about $30 million.

"There's cracked and spalled [broken] concrete all over the place — it's been a salt spray zone its entire life," Eaton told Augusta city councilors during a recent presentation. "With the amount of traffic on the structure, that's not surprising."

The work expected to take place soon will include the start of construction on a new temporary bridge to be built just north of the existing structure. MaineDOT officials have not yet announced when that work will begin, but major traffic disruptions are not expected until the 2025 construction season, when vehicles will switch to the temporary bridge.

The state agency wants to have the bridge replacement project completed by June 2026.

Building in Tight, Busy Area Will Present Challenges

The temporary U.S. 202 bridge will only have a total of three lanes — two westbound toward Winthrop and one eastbound into Augusta. There are currently six lanes on the bridge, including turning lanes.

"The goal is to only impact actual Western Avenue traffic for one season with that temporary bridge," Eaton told the Journal. "It's a crucial part of the city, with the in and out of the commuter traffic, so we understand the complications of it and the impacts it's going to have. Some aspects won't be pretty — there's kind of no way around that, [but] we're doing everything we can to keep things moving."

He added that the project will present MaineDOT challenges due to the site's tight confines and heavy traffic.

Thousands of vehicles travel through the area daily.

U.S. 202, which also is Western Avenue, sees 16,960 vehicles heading eastbound and 10,970 traveling westbound each day, according to MaineDOT data. Under the bridge, along I-95, 20,190 vehicles travel northbound and 14,810 southbound daily. Whitten Road, near Texas Roadhouse and Hannaford, sees another 4,961 vehicles daily.

Some motorists will be required to follow new routes, particularly those looking to take a left turn off Western Avenue onto Whitten Road, which will not be allowed at the current intersection of those two streets.

Instead, motorists coming westbound on Western Avenue and looking to turn left onto Whitten Road to go to Hannaford, for example, will use the southbound on-ramp for I-95. Before that ramp takes traffic onto the freeway, a temporary access road, much of which already exists due to a previous project at the site, will allow motorists to turn onto Whitten Road, just beyond the Maine Evergreen hotel.

Sidewalks, Bike Paths Also Part of Project

MaineDOT's plans for the project also include the addition of new sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, including a sidewalk on the south side where one does not currently exist. Crews will install nearly 3,500 ft. of sidewalk between Edison Drive and Senator Way, including 1,870 ft. of new walkways.

Tyler Pease, an Augusta city engineer, told the Kennebec news source that the state added sidewalks to the project after presenting initial plans for the site. At first, MaineDOT indicated the city may have had to pay for part of the sidewalks, but the state has since agreed to fund the effort itself.

Eaton added that the project received additional funding to add better pedestrian access, noting the area is traversed so frequently that there are beaten paths on the side of the road.

A bike lane also will be added to the eastbound shoulder area up to Senator Way, he said.

"I'm just thrilled with the sidewalks," said Augusta's Ward 1 City Councilor Linda Conti. "And I hope this is a trend with [MaineDOT] and they're going to include sidewalks with a lot more of their projects, because that has been an issue for us before."

When built, the U.S. 201 bridge will be raised to increase its vertical clearance for traffic passing below on I-95 from the current 14-ft. 4 in. to 16 ft., the minimum for federal highways.

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