A bridge has been built

By Dawn De Busk

No doubt about it: A bridge has been built.

About four years ago, a group of Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials came to speak at a Windham Town Council meeting at the request of its town manager. The agenda item was a discussion about the likelihood of River Road improvements, which were very unlikely at the time, given the funding.

I was working as a staff reporter for The Windham Independent. The timeframe was shortly after a bridge collapse had occurred: The collapse of the Interstate 35 West Bridge in Minneapolis, which happened during rush hour, and had a death toll attached to it. That bridge, which crossed the mighty Mississippi River, had been in dire need of replacement. Its demise turned heads where they needed to be turned – it resulted in a nationwide review of existing bridges.

So, since I was particularly interested in the rumors I’d heard about the fate of the bridge in the neighboring town of Naples, I asked one of the MDOT officials about the prospects of replacing the swing bridge, which was on the list of ones in need of repair.

He rather bluntly explained that funding would not permit the cost of another swing bridge. He said a fixed bridge would be built there. He did not give me any room in the conversation to speak to the benefits of keeping with nostalgia by re-building a swing bridge. Rather quickly and rather effectively, I was swayed to his viewpoint of a better traffic-flow – and much less money spent – if a fixed bridge were to be constructed.

At that point, I accepted that was how things would pan out: An unmovable bridge would be resurrected on the Naples’ Causeway.

Thanks to that silly inability to see into the future – little did I know that when that construction actually happened, the undertaking would occur in my newspaper coverage area. The Bay of Naples Bridge project would be one of my beats as a reporter for The Bridgton News.

After Labor Day 2010, I watched the equipment being staged on the Causeway for the three-year project. In October 2010, I attended a modest ground-breaking while a misty, warm rain held its breath.

About five years earlier, before I became a transplant to Maine, I wrote for The Frontiersman and covered Alaska Department of Transportation projects – some that were in the public-input meeting stages, and those that each year were funded. As a reporter, I followed the proposed Knik Arm Crossing – which would be a toll bridge and had been in the discussion phases since the 1970s because it connected the city of Anchorage to the neighboring Matanuska Valley.

Despite enthusiasm with each chunk of funding earmarked for that project – often supplied with the political push and seniority of my favorite Senator Ted Stevens, the bridge still remained in the environmental study phase when I left Alaska.

So, it was refreshing to come to Maine to learn about and write about a bridge that was being constructed – week by week, month by month for the past year and a half.

To me, it was absolutely amazing to witness the big concrete placements that created the coffer dam; and six months later, I saw parts of the concrete placement that put into place the arched bridge.

I know so many people experienced seeing the different stages of this project as earth was being pushed around, and a bridge was becoming reality. Therefore, the experience is not mine alone, but it is one I shared over a period of time with a community of people in my ‘coverage area.’

In February – even though the wooden form gave a hint as to where the bridge would be, it wasn’t until the actual concrete had been placed that it made sense. One week, there was a stack of large rocks for the French drainage; and then the next week, the new road had grown six feet taller. Therefore, where people had stood between the retaining walls – well, that space no longer existed. It was filled with roadway.

I must repeat and clarify that like so many residents of Naples as well as the workers on this project, I was allowed the honor of climbing up on the concrete arch of the bridge shortly after it came into existence.

About seven month earlier, the coffer dam was finished. I got to see that close up, too. I was in total awe of how the corrugated metal held back the river, allowing a bridge to be built.

Simultaneously, the top of the bridge –as soon as that concrete was placed – created an incredibly elevated view of the best scenery the town had to offer. All the while, the coffer dam held back and deflected the water. This, also, provided the necessary foundation for the entire bridge.

These moments of standing on the bridge project while the construction was taking place and while certain phases of the construction had already taken place – those moments are outstanding. I am sure they will be the instants in my life that I look back upon, and feel proud that I participated in this history that cannot be re-done.

That’s right. They only buried Ted Kennedy once. We all know how he died. They only buried Ted Stevens once. It was August 2010 when I heard that political ally of my homestate who had served his people well since 1968 had died immediately in a small plane crash. I couldn’t attend his funeral.

Therefore, I am ready to watch the swing bridge die and be buried.

It is vital that we commemorate those things that happen once in a lifetime. Those are the things for which we should get behind the wheel, and take that road trip no matter the cost or the hours involved.

How about seeing the unveiling of the brand new Bay of Naples Bridge in May 2012? (I shouldn’t have to tell you because I thought I made my point paragraphs ago.) That will be a drive well worth my time.

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