Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 6, 2018
MDOT presents final three options at Falls Bridge public meeting
Tim Cote, an HNTB Corp. engineer consultant for MDOT, speaks at an August 29 public meeting in Blue Hill, flanked by members of the bridge advisory committee.
MDOT design alternatives matrix
An MDOT diagram of design alternatives for the Falls Bridge.
by Anne Berleant
Seven years after the Maine Department of Transportation tapped Falls Bridge in South Blue Hill for replacement or major repair work, the 1926 tied arch bridge is inching closer to placing hammer to steel, after MDOT, Federal Highway Administration officials, and an eight-member citizen advisory committee spent 18 months exploring design options. They presented their design options at an August 29 public meeting in town hall, narrowed to a replacement bridge, a rehabilitated bridge, or a new bridge, re-routing a portion of Route 175. That scenario would mean the existing bridge plus a length of Route 175, including the causeway, would no longer be a state road, and the town of Blue Hill would shoulder the cost of maintenance.
Archaeological and environmental findings played a large role in determining options and delaying what at one time was a project slated to begin as early as this year.
“We recognize the significance of this site,” said Tim Cote, engineer consultant to MDOT.
Of the over 75 citizens present, those who did speak their preference came out in favor of replacing the existing bridge.
“I think it’s time to be realistic. It’s time to say good-bye to that beautiful old bridge and build something that will last a century,” Blue Hill resident Don Mallow said, after hearing 90 minutes of facts and discussion.
For either replacement or rehabilitation, two more decisions remain. First is whether to build an $800,000 temporary bridge during construction, which is expected to last 18 to 24 months, or use a 20-mile detour on state roads. Second is whether to add a sidewalk on one side of the bridge, which would lessen the shoulder width on both sides. If replacement is chosen, an accelerated bridge construction, where the superstructure would be built off-site and joined on-site, is an option that would detour traffic for only 50-60 days and erase the question of a temporary bridge.
With both options, travel lanes will be 11 feet, and the bridge raised 2 to 4 feet, allowing for expected sea level rise and also leveling the steep approach from the South Blue Hill side, and in-water construction would be performed November through March.
The specifics of all three options, including that of super- and substructure, are presented in documents available at townofbluehillmaine.org.
MDOT Project Manager Andrew Lathe will hold a second public meeting later this year to present the options MDOT and FHA has chosen. Construction is still two to three years away.