Luck of the draw: State may okay limited openings of Naples bridge

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – Apparently, there is nowhere in the sand that the state transportation department will draw the line when it comes to working with the town during the construction phases for Naples’ new fixed bridge.

At the request of the town, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) will limit this month’s drawbridge openings.

Recently, construction activity on the Causeway has gone full-swing – in an effort to get as much work done as possible – which includes re-paving Route 302 before the Memorial Day weekend starts.

According to the agreement between the town and the state, both lanes must remain open to traffic from the three-day weekend in May through Labor Day.  Therefore, construction crews have been utilizing one-lane closures in April and May.

Opening the town’s drawbridge as frequently as the month of May schedule calls for could pose some problems – including longer lines of traffic backed up on Route 302, according to resident Robert Neault, who serves on the Naples Causeway Restoration Committee.

On Wednesday, MDOT made public its schedule for the drawbridge to give a heads-up to both boaters and commuters, who might want to plan according.

From now until May 26, the drawbridge will open Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; on Saturday at noon and 2 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., every two hours.

On Friday, May 27, the drawbridge will return to its summer schedule, opening every two hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.

What worried Neault and other residents is that when the drawbridge is opened for boat traffic, it will cause additional traffic to sit and wait, which won’t be a good combination with existing lane closures.

Neault spoke to the Naples Board of Selectmen on Monday. The board gave him a nod to move forward with contacting the state on the matter.

On Tuesday, Neault phoned MDOT’s Scarborough office to explore if the state would be willing to forego some of May’s openings of the drawbridge until the Memorial Day holiday.

“I am waiting to hear back. Their initial response was positive, but needs to be run by a few people,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.

Before making the phone call, Neault talked about district bus schedules with Andy Madura, the director of transportation, maintenance and food service for School Administrative District (SAD) No. 61. Madura informed him of the times when buses would most likely be traveling through Naples. He also gave Neault feedback about the best time to arrange draw-bridge openings so as not to interfere with bus traffic.

According to Neault, the drawbridge has been opened twice this month so far.

In Naples, the drawbridge openings began May 1. The drawbridge is required to open every two hours during the day, starting at 8 a.m. The protocol is: If boats are waiting to pass through the drawbridge, the MDOT operator will open the marine passage way.

Also, the Songo River Queen II usually follows a May weekend schedule of leaving Long Lake at noon and returning at 2 p.m. via the drawbridge.

Prior to Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, Neault had discussed with the Songo River Queen owner the scheduling for the paddleboat during the weekends in May. Neault said he asked if limited drawbridge openings would interfere with his plans to provide tours across Brandy Pond and down the Songo River to a turn-around point just past the Songo River Lock. The businessman was agreeable to the idea of curtailing the number of drawbridge openings, Neault said.

On Tuesday, the Songo River Queen owner said he planned to wait until Memorial Day weekend – when Route 302 is repaved, and he has a safe dock to accommodate customers.

Because the town was making a formal request of MDOT, it was required to be done in writing. But, Neault said Naples stakeholders don’t have time to use the traditional mail system to complete necessary paperwork.

“I called (Scarborough MDOT offices) and outlined the proposal. He said, ‘What is the mailing address? And, I said how about e-mail,” he said, adding the town didn’t have time to wait for the mail to deliver forms and letters.

In another three weeks, when the road construction crews pull off the Causeway, the town’s drawbridge openings will return to normal – allowing boat traffic to pass between Long Lake and Brandy Pond, he said.

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