BATH — People who have been losing sleep while the viaduct has been demolished should soon be able to rest easily again.
The bridge-like structure, which carries U.S. Route 1 traffic over the heart of Bath, closed Oct. 11 for a seven-month reconstruction project. Until Memorial Day, motorists are being diverted to “frontage roads,” including Leeman Highway and Commercial Street.
The Maine Department of Transportation and the contractor hired to do the work, Reed & Reed of Woolwich, began demolishing and removing the structure Oct. 12 to make way for the construction of a new viaduct throughout the winter and spring.
Inevitable delays due to the re-routed traffic are one issue heard around Bath, but DOT Resident Engineer Glenn Philbrook – who worked with the city for months to get the word out in advance – is taking steps to cut down on wait times.
“Since last week, we have made some minor adjustments to the traffic signals, and so delay times have been reduced five to 10 minutes,” Philbrook said in an interview Nov. 3.
Another big source of complaints has been the noise caused by nighttime demolition.
“The focus point right now is just the noise,” Philbrook said. “I’ve been on the night shift, I’ve observed how they do it, and there’s really no quieter way to do it.”
“It is loud; it’s all night, and people aren’t particularly pleased with that,” City Planner Andrew Deci said in an interview Nov. 3. “… But those who I’ve spoken with at least acknowledge that this is a necessity.”
The noisiest work is due to wrap up by Friday, Nov. 11, Philbrook said. Although night work will continue, it will be limited to construction, “which is a lot quieter,” he said.
“I just try to emphasize that this is an accelerated project, that we’re trying to get done in a very short period of time,” he said, adding that Reed & Reed is about a week ahead of schedule.
Deci called the general response from the public “pretty positive,” despite initial anxiety about traffic moving across the Sagadahoc Bridge from Woolwich and other points north and east. “But that has resolved itself in the last week or so.”
Business owners he’s heard from have not indicated a significant drop in customer traffic due to the project, Deci said.
“It hasn’t been a major issue for the downtown,” he added.
The two-lane viaduct stretched a quarter mile, from High Street to the Sagadahoc Bridge, and ran past Bath Iron Works. It was last closed in 2007, when a new surface was applied.
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, according to DOT Project Manager Joel Kittredge. Federal and state funds are going into the project.
Built in 1958, the viaduct had a superstructure that reached the end of its useful life and needed more comprehensive work, Kittredge said in a 2014 interview.
While most of the structure’s piers – which supported 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.
For now, the viaduct’s absence presents a unique view of a cityscape that has been shadowed by the structure for nearly 60 years.
A Bath Police video posted to Facebook the night of Nov. 1, showing a large section of the viaduct crumbling to the ground, received nearly 100,000 views as of Monday.
Information on the project can be found online at maine.gov/mdot/projects/bathviaduct.
Nighttime demolition of the Bath viaduct, which for nearly 60 years carried U.S. Route 1 traffic over the heart of the city, is expected to be complete by Friday, Nov. 11.