BATH — The viaduct that carries U.S. Route 1 traffic over the heart of the city closed Tuesday for a seven-month reconstruction project.
From now until Memorial Day, motorists will be diverted to “frontage roads,” such as Leeman Highway and Commercial Street, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. The DOT and contractors will demolish and remove the viaduct to make way for the construction of a new viaduct throughout the winter and spring.
Access to all businesses and downtown venues will be maintained during the work.
The DOT and the city of Bath have been putting the word out for months, advising drivers to anticipate delays due to lane closures and detours from frontage roads that are needed to continue traffic flow around work areas. Most detours will be routed between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Traffic on Franklin and Middle streets is now unable to pass under or through the viaduct work areas, according to the DOT.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Bath Planning Office had heard “a couple of concerns,” according to Codes and Planning Assistant Debby Labrecque, who noted, for example, a query about how bad the traffic backups would be.
So far they have not been that long, Labrecque said.
Jake Korb, director of Main Street Bath, said he heard Tuesday during a meeting of the organization’s Promotions Committee that the area was “easier to navigate than expected,” according to some members.
Signs, barrels and flaggers are among the examples of aids being employed to help drivers get used to the new traffic patterns.
“Things have gone pretty smoothly these last few months as we have been working on drainage and other preparations around the viaduct,” Resident Engineer Glenn Philbrook said in a DOT press release. “We really appreciate drivers being careful and attentive, and we hope they continue to do that throughout the busy months ahead.”
Philbrook said Tuesday that he had “made an asserted effort” to inform the city, local businesses, and Bath Iron Works well in advance of the closure.
“Everybody had information posted, and links to the DOT website, to show people how they need to go,” he added.
A few northbound motorists were stymied when trying to turn left under the viaduct to access downtown or Washington Street; that traffic is being detoured to Commercial Street, past the old rail station.
Information on the project is available at maine.gov/mdot/projects/bathviaduct.
The two-lane viaduct is a 1/4-mile long, from High Street to the Sagadahoc Bridge, and runs past Bath Iron Works. The structure was last closed in 2007, re-routing traffic to Leeman Highway and Commercial Street, while a new surface was applied.
The same detour is being used this time around as well.
The total project cost is $15.1 million, including $1.9 million for preliminary engineering, $12.7 million for construction and $500,000 for construction engineering, DOT project manager Joel Kittredge has said. Federal and state funds are going into the project.
The bridge, built in 1958, has a superstructure that has reached the end of its useful life and needs more comprehensive work, Kittredge said in a 2014 interview.
While most of the viaduct’s piers – which support the load – at first were expected to remain in place and be rehabilitated or repaired, further analysis of construction, engineering and economics led to a decision to replace all of them.
The reconstructed viaduct will have a life of more than 80 years, according to DOT.
Bath’s viaduct is closed until May for reconstruction.
The Bath viaduct closed Tuesday for reconstruction, causing traffic to be rerouted along detours such as Vine Street.Northbound traffic heading downtown or to Washington Street can no longer turn left under the viaduct, and must now follow a detour.