The Maine Turnpike Authority will be holding a public meeting tomorrow (July 14) regarding the impending closure of the Stroudwater Street bridge.
The 50-year-old bridge spanning the Maine Turnpike will be completely replaced, and the Turnpike Authority estimates the bridge will be closed for approximately one year during construction.
The closure of the bridge means commuters and residents will have to seek an alternative route and the Turnpike Authority is holding Thursday’s meeting to hear from residents about managing traffic.
The issue sparked some controversy in Westbrook last month when the City Council’s Highways Committee voted, 4-0, to direct the city to work with the Authority to seek alternatives to completely closing the bridge.
Bruce Pelletier, public affairs assistant for the Turnpike Authority, said the authority still intends to move forward with the complete closure of the road. “Closing the road is the best option,” he said.
Dan Paradee, public affairs manager for the Turnpike Authority, said he doesn’t believe the Authority would consider a plan that would keep some of the bridge open to traffic during construction. “I seriously doubt it,” he said.
Paradee said the bid documents for the project have not gone out yet, but he expects they will go out before the end of the month.
Pelletier said the Authority had considered keeping a part of the road open, but in the end decided the quickest and most cost efficient option was to completely close the road during construction. Pelletier said by completely closing the road, the construction could be completed in 12 months rather than 18.
“All options were weighed in the beginning,” Pelletier said. “But we’ve got some issues that would be better served if the bridge were closed.”
Paradee agreed with Pelletier, saying after considering all options, closing the road made the most sense. “People have been examining this project for months now,” he said. “When we considered all the aspects of this, it just didn’t make sense to try and run traffic over this bridge and extend this project another six months or so.”
City Council President Jim Violette, who has been outspoken against the project, said he didn’t think the Authority took residents’ concerns in mind when it drew up the plans for the reconstruction.
“I’m totally against the Turnpike closing the bridge,” Violette said. “I don’t think they care, and they have blinders on.”
Violette dismisses the Authority’s assertions that it took public sentiment into consideration when developing the plans for the project. He said he thinks the Authority’s mind has already been made up in regard to the project, and he doubts if anything will change as a result of Thursday’s meeting.
“They are holding the meeting to appease the residents,” Violette said. “They really don’t care what the taxpayers of the city think.”
Pelletier said the Authority considered public opinion as well as discussing the project with the cities of Westbrook and Portland and emergency service providers in the area. Pelletier said emergency services would not be dramatically affected by the closure because most emergency vehicles use a different route. “It’s not a corridor that they normally use,” he said.
The meeting is open to all, and will be held in room 114 of Westbrook High School at 7 p.m. For more information on the meeting or the project, call Pelletier at 871-7771, extension 119, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.