PORTLAND – When the original Veterans Memorial Bridge was built in the 1950s, it was the longest and most expensive span in Maine.
Although its replacement bears neither of those distinctions, the new bridge connecting Portland and South Portland was hailed Thursday by Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt as an “iconic gateway.”
The new bridge, a $65 million collaborative among local, state and federal entities, stretches more than one-third of a mile across the Fore River. The asphalt top was coal black and smooth, not yet faded by sun or wear; the stripes pristine white. It was built with 361 pieces of precast concrete, each weighing more than 60 tons. At its widest, the span is six lanes and also includes a 12-foot-wide walkway for pedestrians and bicylclists, many of whom turned out Thursday to test it out.
Among those riders was Eric Tupper with Maine Adaptive, an organization that offers outdoor programs and activities to people with disabilities. He sat atop a bike that he pedaled with his hands rather than his feet.
“It’s really a wonderful amenity,” he said.
Construction of the bridge has taken more than two years, but the work by general contractor Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich was done on time and on budget, Bernhardt said during a ceremony Thursday prior to its official opening.
Jack Parker, the company’s CEO, said Reed & Reed has been building bridges all over New England since 1928.
“This is what we do,” he said.
Thursday’s ceremony on the new bridge lured some big names, including Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. He said the project is a great example of cooperation between two communities and state and federal officials. The walkway, for instance, is something that came up often during the public input process prior to construction and led the designer and builder to include it.
“When you look at this type of bridge, this is what President Obama has been talking about; building an America that is built to last,” Mendez said in an interview. “And all these workers out here, without these types of investments, they could be home not working.”
Parker said his firm relies heavily on state and federal dollars, so he was happy to see the project move forward and put more than 100 Reed & Reed employees and contractors to work.
The old bridge, built and dedicated shortly after the end of the Korean War, had been deteriorating for years. It was always safe for vehicles, but needed to be replaced, Bernhardt said.
“We were just holding it together waiting for the funding,” he said of the old bridge.
The $65 million price tag – nine times the cost of the original bridge – is more that the Maine DOT spend on all bridges in a given year. About $50 million of that total was federal dollars.
The old bridge lasted less than 60 years, but its replacement was designed and constructed to live for 100 years.
Like the original, the new bridge was dedicated to veterans, a group that is more than 150,000 strong in Maine. A memorial was included in the project where the bridge intersects with Fore River Parkway.
Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage, was among those who helped dedicate the new bridge, not only to veterans but current servicemen and women.
“Let this bridge be a symbol of your strength, your dedication and your fortitude,” she said.
By noontime, the guests were gone and the new bridge was opened to motorists. With more than 22,000 vehicles crossing each day, it’s one of the busiest in the state.
The old bridge, which now obscures the view of Portland’s waterfront, will start being taken down on Friday, Parker said.
By Eric Russell firstname.lastname@example.org Staff Writer
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
For more information about the Veterans Memorial Bridge, please visit http://www.veteransmemorialbridge.org/