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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 6, 2014
Oceanville Bridge project draws concern, public meeting scheduled

The Oceanville Bridge in Stonington

The bridge in Oceanville will be the topic of a public meeting on Wednesday, February 12 at the town hall.

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Billings-Pezaris

by Rich Hewitt

Selectmen on Monday, February 3, echoed concerns raised by residents over the plans by the Maine Department of Transportation to make temporary repairs to the Oceanville Bridge.

Those concerns were serious enough that the board took up MDOT’s offer of a public meeting on the project. That meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12, in the upstairs meeting room at the town hall.

It’s not that the selectmen dispute the need for the repair. The MDOT rates the condition of the structure and superstructure as poor and the deck as fair. And town officials agree that it needs work.

“It’s getting to the point where it is dangerous,” said Chairman George Stevens.

The real concern is the impact the project will have on the residents and businesses that use the Oceanville Bridge. The selectmen also expressed concern that the department only gave the town two weeks’ notice of the project, leaving little time to prepare for the project. And residents have been contacting selectmen particularly about a sign posted near the bridge warning of delays of up to one hour. “I don’t know why they put that sign up there,” said Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris. “I’ve asked them to take it down.”

She said she has since been informed that the delays would be much shorter than that, with closures being about 15 minutes at a time. Billings-Pezaris said she will work with the department and set up an email tree—as she did with the Moose Island project—to enable her to quickly notify residents if the crews anticipate lengthy closures.

Still, the road is heavily traveled and any delays will inconvenience a lot of people. The MDOT traffic count shows 900 vehicles a day, and Billings-Pezaris said that count could be low depending on when it was taken. It could be much higher in the summer months, she said.

There are a number of homes down there, she said, as well as businesses, and fishermen, clam diggers, construction crews and boat builders travel the road regularly.

That high rate of activity also raised concerns about safety. Despite the department’s assurance that the approaches to the bridge will have signs warning motorists, Billings-Pezaris said she was concerned about the blind approaches to the bridge and the potential for an accident.

Stevens suggested that cutting brush along some of the approaches might help the sight lines on the approaches, but such cutting, he said, would likely cause erosion in some places.

The MDOT plans to strengthen the bridge by adding new steel beams for extra support. In order to maintain the current weight levels over the bridge, the width of the travel way will have to be narrower, from the current 22 feet to 18 feet. That would make the road across the bridge just one-lane.

The only way to maintain two-way traffic on the bridge after the repairs would be to lower the weight limit to 15,000 pounds. That’s about the weight of an oil delivery truck, Billings-Pezaris said, but that limit would prohibit many of the tractor trailers, construction vehicles and boat transports that currently travel that route from using the bridge.

Funding for the project, $102,000, has been included in the MDOT biennial budget and work is expected to last for several months. This is considered a temporary repair of the bridge and the department also has earmarked an additional $100,000 to conduct an engineering study for a future bridge replacement.

Despite those plans, the town manager said she was concerned that the new bridge might be overlooked if the department experiences budget pressures in the future.

“I’m worried about whether they’ll come back to it,” she said. “And even if they do, it might be six or eight years before they build it.”

Early information from the department indicates that the new bridge, when built, would be 24 feet wide, wide enough to return to two-way traffic over it.