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New Veterans Memorial Bridge between Portland, South Portland set to open

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New Veterans Memorial Bridge between Portland, South Portland set to open

SOUTH PORTLAND — After two years of construction, the new Veterans Memorial Bridge spanning the Fore River between Portland and South Portland is nearly complete. 

On Thursday, June 28, the bridge will open to vehicle and bicycle traffic. The bridge will not open to pedestrian traffic until October, when crews will have finished pedestrian access in South Portland, the assistant project manager, Dustin Littlefield, of Reed & Reed, said.

"This whole project's been really smooth," Littlefield said Wednesday. "You'd expect a project of this size to have a few hiccups, but we were fine."

The 1,600-foot span features a 12-foot wide sidewalk and four "bump outs" – sections of sidewalk featuring benches, and jutting out over the river.

"This will be a nice, open freeway for bikes and people to walk," Littlefield said.

The bridge creates a new intersection with the Fore River Parkway in Portland, designed to reduce congestion at what is now a the intersection of the current bridge, the parkway and West Commercial and Valley streets. 

Cutting one spoke off that intersection should make for lighter traffic and easier pedestrian and bicyclist travel, Littlefield said.

Construction on the $63 million project began in July 2010. At the height of construction last year, around 70 workers were involved.

By Wednesday, about a dozen workers were putting the finishing touches on sidewalks and handrails, laying pavement on the last stretches of unpaved access ramp and carving out rumble strips in the breakdown lanes.

On June 28, the bridge's opening will be marked with a ceremony to honor Maine's veterans, including a wreath-laying ceremony at the new Veterans Memorial Plaza at the Portland foot of the bridge.

On the bridge itself, speeches will be made by Federal Highway Administration Secretary Victor Mendez, Commissioner David Bernhardt of the Maine Department of Transportation, first lady Ann LePage and Jack Parker of Reed & Reed.

"It's going to be pretty jubilant," said Jeraldine Chow-Herrara, a spokeswoman for the Maine DOT. 

The 9:30 a.m. ceremony will be accessible only from the Portland side and only to bicyclists and pedestrians. Parking will be available on St. John and Valley streets, or on West Commercial Street, where the DOT will provide shuttle service.

During the ceremony, the Fore River Parkway will be closed to all but Mercy Hospital traffic. By early afternoon, the bridge should be open to traffic, Littlefield said. 

After the new bridge opens, work will continue through the fall to finish the pedestrian access and complete landscaping on both sides of the bridge. Then there's the task of removing the old Veterans Memorial Bridge, which Littlefield said would take about six months. 

"They come down a lot faster than they go up, hopefully," he said. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.