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Community members want a new bridge on Rawson Avenue

By Susan Mustapich | Nov 05, 2019

CAMDEN — An Oct. 30 meeting to discuss the future of the Rawson Avenue Bridge was well attended by residents who live in the area of the now closed bridge.

Steve Cole, Maine Department of Transportation Regional Planner for the Midcoast, reviewed the recent history of the bridge.

It was closed in mid April because of serious structural issues, in the substructure, Cole said. The bridge was built in 1935 by the state. All bridges in the state are inspected every two years. During the most recent inspection in February, it was clear the Rawson Avenue Bridge had deteriorated to such a degree that it needed to be closed.

Cole said that before the bridge was closed it was on a list of bridges that DOT had determined needed to be closed and taken off the state bridge system. The state uses a five year time span to identify bridges that need to be closed and removed from the state system or taken over by another entity, he said.

In early September, DOT officials met with the Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin and Public Works Director Dave St. Laurent to discuss prospects for the bridge going forward, Cole said. DOT also offered to pay half of the cost of either building a new vehicular bridge or as a bicycle pedestrian bridge. he said. If the bridge is rebuilt, it will be turned over to the town for maintenance.

He said removal of the bridge could take until 2023. He said there are 20 bridges in the Midcoast region that will be seeing preliminary engineering or construction in the next three years or so. He said timing is an even more difficult discussion than funding. He said it's a long process.

Cole said DOT heard strongly from town staff that the pedestrian bridge was probably the interest in town. On its own, Cole said, DOT would have removed the bridge and created a landscaped berm at both sides. The street ends at the bridge would be configured so that emergency vehicles and delivery trucks could use both ends of the street.

Cole asked to hear directly from residents and others in town, whether they support either option. He asked to hear their questions and what a schedule might be going forward, depending on what their interests are.

Geoff Scott introduced himself as chairman of the Pathways Committee, which is interested in what is involved with moving forward with a pedestrian bridge. Scott said he had letters from others who support the pedestrian bridge, who could not attend the meeting.

The Pathways committee has surveyed the use of the now-closed bridge by pedestrians. He said there are 30-35 pedestrian trips a day between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. He said pedestrians are going to town, school and the farmers market.

He said the the bridge is working for the community, even though it's closed. He noted that last year there were five-ton trucks driving across the bridge, "and now we can't walk across it." He expressed the fear that this would be stopped.

Cole said at some point, DOT is going to make it impossible to cross the bridge, due to concerns about liability. He said he does not see a way to secure an agreement from MDOT for allowance to walk across the bridge. Pedestrian bridges fail as well, even modern bridges, he said.

Select Board member Marc Ratner asked if DOT engineers could identify something to shore up the bridge pedestrians. He asked for a minor repair to support the bridge for walking. He said his biggest concern is middle school kids walking to school, who without this access will be walking along roads without sidewalks.

Cole said he has not seen this done. He said he was willing to pose the question to DOT engineers and be back in touch with a response.

Anita Brosius-Scott of Ames Terrace described problems for walkers on Ames Terrace, including a blind corner with no street lights or sidewalks. The traffic on Ames Terrace has increased since the bridge closed, and it's an unsafe place to walk, she said.

Michael Harrell of Ames Terrace said that people are speeding on the street. He said the street was not designed for its current use. He wants to see a functioning bridge for vehicles. He believes the town and state should maintain this infrastructure.

Kevin Bedford of Rawson Avenue said if the bridge is not rebuilt, he wants to see sidewalks along Ames Terrace and Rawson Avenue

Rick Doherty asked how expensive it would be to put a new bridge over the top of the old old bridge.

Martin said that unfortunately the bridge underneath will collapse at some point.

Cole said DOT uses federal funding, which requires building to federal standards. He said DOT will not build over the existing bridge.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said about two years ago the town did a feasibility study for a vehicular bridge, estimated to cost $1 million to $1.5 million dollars, and a pedestrian bridge estimated to cost a half million dollars.

Bob Falciani said both types of bridge options are on the table at this time.

Wyatt McConnell said he walks across the bridge daily. He said though he lives within a stone's throw of the middle school, without the bridge he will have to drive his kids to school. He asked DOT to think about all of the transportation-related impacts that would result if the bridge is not replaced.

Tom Resnick of Rawson Avenue said he strongly supports the pedestrian bridge. He said it is a much better value for the money.

Howard Brown of Ames Terrace said he has noticed heavy traffic on the street, and while walking his dog has seen that vehicles are not following safety margins from pedestrians.

Sarah of Rawson Avenue has observed that one stops at the stop sign at the corner of Ames Terrace and Rawson Avenue and that cars are driving too fast. She's a proponent of the pedestrian bridge, due to the significant amount of walkers on Rawson Avenue. She asked if the less expensive option of building a pedestrian bridge could also come with a sidewalk on Ames Terrace.

Cole explained sidewalks are a separate project, and that DOT currently has other sidewalk projects in Camden.

From the back of the room Ellen Heckard of Rawson Avenue said, "We are just Millville, but the Rawson Avenue bridge does give us access to our school for our kids, our only market and the walkway along the river that has had a lot of work put into it."

She said that due to DOT not maintaining the bridge, it is failing and traffic is now being diverted. "You do owe it to us making that diversion path safe with sidewalks and lights," she said. She said this is needed until the bridge is rebuilt.

As the meeting wrapped up, Martin said there would be another meeting with town and DOT representatives, and that options for moving forward would be brought to the Select Board for discussion.

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