September 8, 2011

Route 27 traffic resumes as bridges open

Permanent bridges will be built at same site of collapsed bridges

CARRABASSETT VALLEY -- Traffic is once again flowing on a small stretch of Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley that has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene destroyed two bridges on the highway on Aug. 28.

After working extended hours during Labor Day weekend, Reed & Reed Inc. finished building two temporary bridges Tuesday at the site, and the vital stretch of highway near Sugarloaf Mountain Resort reopened about 8 p.m.

The project started last week after Gov. Paul LePage approved a fast-tracked contracting method for emergency storm repairs, allowing the Maine Department of Transportation to forgo the public bidding process to select the contractor.

The Woolwich contractor that did the emergency repair is expected to start building two permanent bridges over Carrabassett River and Brackett Brook, the waterways just 300 yards apart that had floodwaters from Irene wash away the two bridges.

Project costs and the start date are still being negotiated and the permanent bridges are scheduled to be finished by Nov. 18, according to Mark Latti, spokesman for the transportation department.

Transportation officials learned Tuesday that Maine received $1 million in federal aid to help pay for storm repairs on certain eligible highway systems, including the bridge replacement project on Route 27.

The two permanent bridges will be built at the same site of the collapsed bridges. The temporary replacements are downstream so traffic can stay moving while the permanent bridges are built, according to Ted Clark, senior project manager for the contractor.

The temporary and permanent bridges meet the same safety standards for traffic, but differ because of their materials, designs and expected longevity, he said.

Temporary bridges can be built with re-used materials and permanent bridges have to use all new materials, Clark said. For example, the two temporary structures opened this week are built with re-used steel beams, compared to the brand new concrete beams planned for the permanent bridges.

Getting the temporary bridges opened quickly was a top priority because of concerns about the closed highway's adverse effects on residents, businesses and emergency response services.

People who relied on that section of Route 27 to drive north of Carrabassett Valley had been forced to take detours that add anywhere from 15 to 34 miles to their trips, depending on where they start.

Canadian trucking businesses that use Route 27 as a major delivery route to Maine had some of the longest and most costly detours, according to L. Breton Transportation Limited.

The trucking company, based in Marbleton, Quebec, faced a 60-mile detour for most of its deliveries during the highway closure, according to Dany Gagnon, terminal director for the company.

He said the company makes about 40 deliveries of lime products across Maine every day. The tractor-trailer trucks typically use the section of Route 27 that closed in Carrabassett Valley, a town in northern Franklin County. These delivers were diverted last week through Jackman on U.S. Route 201, in northern Somerset County.

"It cost us a lot of money in gasoline and a lot of trouble," Gagnon said. He didn't know exactly how much the detour cost because of the different delivery distances, he said.

He praised Maine, however, for getting the highway reopened so quickly, helping reduce the added costs for businesses.

Law enforcement officials even helped return the company's tractor-trailer truck that was stranded between the collapsed bridges during the storm. Town police guided the truck along a private-road detour two days after the storm to get it back to Quebec, Gagnon said.

"I drove my pickup truck down there to see the damage last week, and I can't believe they got (the temporary bridge repair) done so quickly," he said.

David Robinson -- 861-9287

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