News Feature

Blue Hill
Web exclusive, August 10, 2017
Public weighs in on Falls Bridge, again

Slide show

Tim Cote, a consultant to MDOT, presented information on Falls Bridge conditions and regulations guiding its replacement or rehabilitation.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Nearly two years after the Maine Department of Transportation held public meetings on the future of Falls Bridge—whether to replace or rehabilitate the historic 1926 gateway into South Blue Hill and Brooklin—it once again asked residents for input on August 8 at Blue Hill Town Hall.

In the months between, archaeological, environmental and historical findings have triggered federal involvement and regulations, and a local advisory committee was formed to ensure local input.

Two main points of discussion arose from the recent meeting: the current condition of the tied arch bridge, and three alternatives MDOT project manager Andrew Lathe and the nine-member advisory committee have focused on. Rehabilitation or replacement is still about two years away because of the length of the design, engineering and construction process, and, depending on the final design, state right-of-way issues.

MDOT will present its “preferred alternative” to the public early in 2018, Lathe said.

The three alternatives presented were: rehabilitation; replacement with either a traditional girder bridge, with “aesthetic enhancements,” or a tied arch bridge; or a new bridge in a different location, and “repurposing” the old bridge, likely for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The 40-odd community members present were pretty evenly split across—and equally passionate about— the alternatives. Concerns over construction detours, especially for emergency response, were strong, especially from Blue Hill Fire Chief Matt Dennison.

Noel Stookey, a public voice for preserving the bridge, asked a pointed question on a new, relocated bridge: “What kind of price tag do we have? If we don’t know the price, how can we make an effective choice?”

Lathe admitted the meeting “was a little early” in the process, and that more information would be presented at committee meetings, open to the public.

Last inspected in 2016, MDOT rates the bridge’s superstructure—arches, ribs and tie girder—in fair condition; its roadway deck in poor condition; and its substructure of retaining wall, abutments, and foundation caps also as poor. All of this can be addressed through rehabilitation, said Tim Cote, a consultant on the project who presented the information.

A load capacity evaluation should be completed by the end of the year. However, Lathe said the bridge is safe, and at most, if its future load capacity warrants, it would be posted for a lower weight.

The slide show presentation on the bridge’s current condition will be made available at townofbluehillmaine.org.