Temporary bridges set to open Route 27 for traffic on Sept. 6
CARRABASSETT VALLEY - Route 27 is expected to be open for traffic on two temporary bridges Sept. 6, after the bridges collapsed and closed off traffic Sunday afternoon. The permanent fix is scheduled to be completed the week before Thanksgiving. The project's cost total will be between $2.5 million and $3.5 million, according to Maine Department of Transportation officials today.
The Route 27 bridges, one just north of Sugarloaf's Access Road and a second 500 feet to the south of the Access Road, collapsed after officials said 8.5 inches of rain fell in a relatively short period of time as Tropical Storm Irene passed through the region on Sunday.
All that rain falling on top of the mountain flowed down and created flash flood conditions that, in the end, destroyed the 50-year-old northside bridge and the 22-year-old south bridge.
The temporary and permanent bridge replacement work will be completed by Reed & Reed of Woolwich. The project was set on a fast track by Gov. Paul LePage after he viewed the collapsed bridges on Monday with MDOT officials and approved expediting the contracting system to replace the two bridges. The move cut out the usual progression of bidding out a design, then bidding out for a general contractor, which can take two or more months to complete. Instead, it took less than two days to hire a contractor.
Joyce Taylor, director of MDOT's project development, said today at a meeting of town officials, emergency workers and businesses owners affected by the Route 27 closure, she interviewed five of the best bridge construction companies in the state and went with the company, Reed & Reed, because it came up with the quickest completion dates.
"No one gave us a better date," she said. MDOT has mobilized its crew to the site to begin clearing bridge debris to prepare the site for the temporary bridges, which will both be installed at the same time. In addition, work has been completed to shore up one lane on a damaged stretch of Route 27 south of the bridges for heavy equipment to come in to the sites.
"We're pushing really hard to get it open on Sept. 6," Taylor said, adding that work will go on nonstop through the Labor Day weekend until the bridge replacements are in place and traffic is flowing again. She chose the temporary, two-lane bridge used on the Route 2 bridge project in Norridgewock, which will be cut in half and used at both sites of the Route 27 bridge collapse, because it's sturdy enough to handle the heavy truck traffic that regularly flows along Route 27 and any future intense storms that may be brewing between now and when the permanent bridge structures can be completed and opened.
Courtney Knapp, Carrabassett Valley's fire chief and emergency management director, called the meeting to get the bridge replacement information out and to hear from all sides of the issue so solutions can be found by working together. One such issue was one of emergency response to areas north of the bridge collapse area.
Eustis Selectman Jay Wyman said he had serious safety concerns with the bridge being closed for another week. The nearest emergency medical aid service to Eustis is coming from Rangeley, which may mean an hour or hour and a half wait, he said. "It's not worth it if somebody dies," he added of the wait. He wondered why a quicker temporary fix to the northern bridge couldn't be found. A detour to Sugarloaf just below the south-most bridge has been repaired and tested by MDOT for emergency vehicles, including the town's fire trucks. At the north bridge area, a foot path has been installed but, there's no route for vehicles to cross north on Route 27.
Taylor said safety was her biggest concern in that the temporary bridge installed needs to withstand the heavy truck traffic and future storm events and that will take a week. "It's a very aggressive goal and they'll be working long hours to complete it by then. We need it open and we need bridges that move trucks," she said.
Eric Dumond of Boralex Biomass in Stratton, said there is the worry that emergency aid in case injury or fire protection needed at the plant will take too long to reach the plant.
"We're very concerned for our employees," he said.
State Sen. Tom Saviello suggested the possibility of a medical service crew temporarily stationed in Eustis until Route 27 is reopened. Another possibility, said Rich Wilkinson Sugarloaf's director of mountain operations, was passing a patient from an ambulance on the north side to an ambulance waiting on the south side of Access Road along the footpath bridge for transport to hospital facilities south. Currently a makeshift foot bridge was installed from the Access Road across the river so employees can go to work and get home. The MDOT is installing a much more sturdy foot bridge used to evacuate passengers from a ferry as a solution. Medical service helicopter LifeFlight regularly responds to serious accidents and Knapp said he was in contact during Sunday's storm with the Maine National Guard and the state's forest service that will fly in adverse weather conditions, he said.
Dumond noted that 80 percent of their workforce lives south of the bridge collapse. Many of Stratton Lumber's and construction and lumber company, JL Brochu Inc. employees also live south of the bridge collapses. The companies will provide shuttle buses to and from the north side of the river and were given permission for employees to park their vehicles in the Anti-Gravity Center's parking lot, which is accessed by the detour up across the mountain.
Other concerns were for law enforcement north of the Access Road, which Carrabassett Valley Police Chief Scott Nichols said he would ask the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and the State Police about dedicating personnel there until Route 27 opens up.
Afterward, Wyman said "the hardship's not the issue, it's the emergency situations that could come up that are the worry."
In the meantime, the area's business owners on both sides of the bridges want the public to know they are open for business.
Sandi Isgro, owner and manager of The White Wolf Inn and restaurant in Stratton, said after the meeting she was pleased with how everyone is working together to get the bridges open as quickly as possible. However, she said, "we'll lose Labor Day weekend, which is a very important weekend for us." She held out hope, though, that vacationers would still come and keep on coming. "I might as well look on the bright side," she said filling up her Jeep with gas before taking the Access Road up Sugarloaf and crossing south along a smaller network of privately-owned roads to Route 27 south to Kingfield, over to Phillips on the Salem Road then northwest on Route 4 to Rangeley, then north by northeast on Route 16 and home to Stratton. It's a trip that normally takes her a few minutes, just 8 miles north from Sugarloaf.