News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 9, 2017
Citizens speak out on plans for new Benjamin River Bridge

Designing a new bridge

Engineer Jim Wentworth of Kleinfelder gives an overview of the Benjamin River Bridge, current and planned, at the March 8 MDOT meeting in Sedgwick.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

A meeting held by the Maine Department of Transportation drew 15 citizens from both sides of the bridge and a handful of concerns on March 8 at the Sedgwick Town House. MDOT has scheduled a $1.5 million replacement for the Benjamin River Bridge in 2018.

This first “preliminary” meeting will be followed by one in June, “with a more detailed plan,” said engineer Jim Wentworth, of Kleinfelder, the firm hired to design the new bridge. The project will enter its final design phase after that June meeting.

Community concerns included a 30-day bridge closure’s impact on emergency response; possible rising water levels over the 75-year lifespan of the new bridge; and the widening of the span of the bridge, which would slow the current where it channels through the bridge.

“This is one of the most picturesque corners on the Peninsula and a popular swimming place,” Stephanie Atwater said. “Everyone likes to ride the current.”

Brooklin Selectman Bill Cohen’s practical concerns centered on “mutual aid and how do we take care of that?” He had MDOT project manager Michelle Boone to agree, on the record, to meet with both towns’ fire chiefs and first responders before the June meeting.

More than one person asked that MDOT not schedule the construction at the same time as the repair or replacement of Falls Bridge in South Blue Hill, the route from Blue Hill into Brooklin.

Sedgwick Selectman Michael Sheahan, following up a question from adjacent property owner John Randolph, asked whether the design will factor in rising water levels in the future by raising the elevation. Randolph had noted that currently the Benjamin River reaches over the bridge surface at extreme high tides.

Boone and Wentworth were stumped by the question, with both noting they had never been asked about climate change and bridge designs before.

“That’s a topic a lot of people think one way about and a lot of people think another way,” Wentworth said. Boone said she would pose the question to her project manager.

The bridge is a candidate for an accelerated schedule, Boone said, with construction crews working longer hours and up to seven days a week to finish construction within a 30-day period. If the bridge is not closed for construction, the work could take several months. Traffic will be detoured about five miles on a local road, she said.

Sedgwick restaurant owner Michael Rossney asked about the timing, as “we feel half our people come from Brooklin and we’re in Sedgwick.” And with replacement or repairs to Falls Bridge, “some sensitivity to scheduling is critical to us.”

The Benjamin River Bridge was built in 1935 with steel abutments, rebuilt in 1965 replacing the steel with concrete, and widened in 1983 to about 27 feet, Wentworth said.

“Don’t overdo it,” Atwater advised. “It has value in the way it is.”