PORTLAND — Nearly two years after the first foundation of the new Veterans Memorial Bridge was installed, the project is on track to wrap up and be open to traffic by July.
On Tuesday, the $63 million bridge appeared to be little more than a raw concrete span during a site walk organized by the Greater Portland Council of Governments and Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System.
But members of the design team said the new bridge, unlike its precursor, will be an aesthetic feat that truly honors the nation’s military forces.
“Nothing about (the existing bridge) says veterans memorial,” landscape architect Mark Johnson said, gesturing towards the 58-year-old bridge, functional but unimaginative and rapidly nearing the end of its life span.
Johnson helped design elements of the new bridge that he said will emphasize the connection with the sacrifices of America’s service men and women, including a series of plaques dedicated to each of the armed forces and a granite-based flag for the Merchant Marine.
At several points over the bridge, the 12-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle path on the bridge’s edge will widen into scenic outlooks over the Fore River. The outlooks will feature benches for reflecting on the river. Curved concrete walls dividing the path from the motorway will be topped with arced metal poles that appear to “wave in a sinuous pattern,” and seemingly bow in deference as befits a memorial, Johnson said.
The new bridge is unique, too, because the design process involved more public input than the typical infrastructure project, including the voices of several veterans groups, he said.
“A major stakeholder concern early on was a reaction to what the old bridge was, which is basically a viaduct,” Johnson said.
The new bridge, which was designed with a lifespan of 100 years, will be a more visible feature of the cities it links than the old one, Portland Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky said.
Where the old bridge connected to the end of the Fore River Parkway near West Commercial Street on the Portland side, the new one meets the parkway slightly to the west in a three-way intersection that he said will make the parkway a more popular and efficient entry point to the city.
The construction process, too, has been efficient, with the project “on time and on budget,” said Jeraldine Herrera, a spokeswoman for the bridge project.
“It’s a segmental job, like a Lego set,” said Dustin Littlefield, the assistant project manager for contractor Reed & Reed. “Everything has kind of gone as expected.”
With three months to go before the span opens, the major structural work of the bridge is finished. But construction crews still have to install concrete curbs and handrails and pave the surface, Littlefield said. A retaining wall on the approach to the bridge from South Portland is also still in progress, he said.
After opening the new bridge this summer, contractors will have until the end of the year to remove the old one.
As the final pieces are set in place, project crews hope to keep traffic flowing around the bridges as smoothly as possible, Littlefield said, although the Route 1 ramp in South Portland will be closed from Monday, April 16 to Friday, May 4.
An artist’s rendering of one of the overlooks along the new Veterans Memorial Bridge between Portland and South Portland.