News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 19, 2017
Committee, public praise MDOT on Falls Bridge process

Falls Bridge: repair or replace

Blue Hill resident Stephen Rappaport, a Falls Bridge Advisory Committee member, and Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz, committee facilitator, review information from the Maine Department of Transportaiton and its consultants at an October 16 meeting at town hall.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Nearly three years after the Maine Department of Transportation publicly outlined plans for repairing or replacing Falls Bridge, and six years after MDOT first cast its gaze towards the bridge’s condition, a decision appears to be just a few months away.

“We went through a lot of preliminary information that was framing this piece [of the process],” advisory committee facilitator and Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz said after an October 16 meeting. “We understand better the details being thrown at us now, and it’s getting exciting to talk about options.”

This meeting focused on engineering and construction considerations of the three options the committee is considering: rehabilitation, replacement or an alternative bridge. Subsequent meetings will maintain the same focus and end with an MDOT recommendation that ideally the committee will support.

The eight-member citizen advisory committee was formed at MDOT’s request to help the decision making process and began meeting in April. At this week’s meeting, committee members, and area residents such as Blue Hill resident Noel Stookey, praised the thoroughness of MDOT, its consulting engineers and Federal Highway Administrator cohorts in presenting the challenges surrounding the project.

Unexpected findings, from archaeological to environmental to historical, delayed the process and brought in federal agencies and regulations.

The 114-foot-long tied arch bridge, built in 1926, spans Salt Pond and is a historic gateway to South Blue Hill and Brooklin. But its deck, tie girders and substructure need massive repairs, according to Tim Cote, an HNTB Corp. engineer consulting on the project with MDOT.

Cote described what rehabilitating those pieces would involve, and he will continue at the next meeting.

“We want to do due diligence,” Cote said. “If we’re wrong [in our decision], the implication is millions [of dollars].”

Next, Cote and MDOT project manager Andrew Lathe will repeat the process for a replacement and an alternative bridge, followed by a meeting on traffic considerations during the construction process.

Lathe said that MDOT and the committee will be ready to present a recommendation to the public in February or March.

While the Falls Bridge project is comparatively small, it presents challenges, Cote said, because of its location over a narrow, fast-moving body of water, and historical, archaeological and environmental considerations.

The next committee meeting will be held November 16 at 6 p.m., with the location to be determined.

Previous committee presentations and meeting minutes are available at townofbluehillmaine.org.