More time needed to save bridge

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — More time — that is all that’s needed, say those who want to save the historic Red Iron Bridge at the end of McNeil Road in Fryeburg Harbor

FAILING STEEL REBAR — that protrudes from the concrete deck bottom of the Red Iron Bridge in Fryeburg Harbor is what a Maine Department of Transportation senior bridge maintenance engineer said poses the greatest safety risk to the public. (Ackley Photo)

from being demolished by the state, perhaps as early as November.

That is the message proponents of saving the Red Iron Bridge want three Maine Department of Transportation officials to take back to Augusta with them.

The group of citizens pushing to save the bridge are inviting MDOT to make it a joint effort.

However, a senior bridge maintenance engineer with the Maine Department of Transportation told the nearly 100 people who crowded into the Fryeburg Rescue Barn here Monday night and spilled out into the hallway that the circa 1894 bridge is too dangerous, in the long run, to warrant rehabilitating it.

“The reason why the Red Iron Bridge needs to be removed is the (53-year-old) deck,” said MDOT’s Senior Bridge Maintenance Engineer John Buxton. “That bridge deck is very tenuous — a hole could develop, at any time…We can patch a hole, but we can’t do it indefinitely. Are we talking ‘catastrophic’, if it falls down? No. But, the (steel) rebar is hanging down.”

“That’s just superficial,” said Ed Jones of North Fryeburg.

“No, that is main reinforcing steel that can easily drop out,” the senior bridge maintenance engineer replied. “The concrete is good.”

“Secondly, the unprotected steel piers — that is not a good design,” Buxton stated. “Something has to be done, from a structural standpoint. That’s not a good design.”

One man in the audience asked Buxton why large commercial trucks are still allowed to use the Red Iron Bridge, if state officials believe it to be unsafe.

“It’s reaching the end of its useful and safe life,” said Buxton, “and that’s what I’m here for — to keep you people safe.”

“There’s no hole in the (bridge) deck, right now,” another man stated.

“It’s imminent,” said Buxton. “And, I’ll tell you what — it’s my job to close it or replace it, before that hole develops.”

Buxton was accompanied Monday by MDOT’s Urban and Federal Bridge Program Program Manager David Sherlock and Project Manager Steve Bodge.

Saving the Red Iron Bridge

State Senator Dave Hastings (R-Fryeburg) facilitated Monday night’s public meeting with MDOT officials, saying in his opening remarks, “I know you are here to oppose this (planned bridge removal) and feel the state has made the wrong decision, and you have many good reasons.”

Hastings explained that MDOT Commissioner David Cole came to Fryeburg earlier this year, at the request of Hastings and town officials, to see if the planned removal of the Red Iron Bridge could be halted.

“Commissioner Cole was here this summer, but the state held firm and still intends to take the bridge out, as early as November,” said Sen. Hastings. “I asked the Governor’s Office if we should have a delegation from Fryeburg go to Augusta, and Jane Lincoln of the Governor’s Office said they’d like to send the MDOT down one more time. However, we could ask to meet with the governor later.”

In introducing Buxton to the crowd, Sen. Hastings said, “I ask you all to listen politely and with an open mind. He’s going to give you his best shot at justifying why the bridge should come out…and I’m asking the DOT representatives — Steve, John and David — to listen with an open mind, as Commissioner Cole said you will.”

Hastings then asked the MDOT representatives to tell the attendees what the state has determined it would cost to remove the Red Iron Bridge, the cost to repair it and the cost to replace it.

Project Manager Bodge said the company that won the bid for the replacement of the Charles River Bridge and the removal of the Red Iron Bridge is CPM Constructors of Freeport which bid $750,000 to replace the Charles River Bridge and $124,000 to remove the Red Iron Bridge, for a total of $873,000. Bodge said Buxton believes the Red Iron Bridge could be rehabilitated for $750,000 to $800,000. “That’s our best estimate,” Bodge said.

“And, because it’s a two-span bridge,” said Bodge, “we estimate that to replace it would cost $1.7 million.”

“We did estimate the Charles River Bridge replacement at $1.2 million, but we got it (done) for $750,000,” Bodge explained further.

Diane Jones, representing the dozens of people who have joined together in the fight to save the Red Iron Bridge, gave a power point presentation at Monday night’s meeting stating the case for their opposition to the state’s plans to demolish it.

Jones started out her presentation by quoting an article in a daily Portland newspaper in mid-May of this year in which Bodge was quoted as saying, “As far as we are concerned, we are set to move forward with removing the Red Iron Bridge. The only way this doesn’t move forward, is if the selectmen come up with something radical.”

“What is deemed radical,” Diane Jones said, “is removing a bridge that has been serving the public for 200 years — that is radical! The Town of Fryeburg spent over $350,000 of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to rehabilitate McNeil Road only now to face removal of the bridge on it? Cutting down on response time for police, fire and rescue personnel is radical! Do we want ‘radical’ governing our decision-making? I think not!”

As to the opponents’ position on the proposed removal of the Red Iron Bridge, Jones stated, “Fifteen selectmen from five towns support keeping the bridge. We have letters of support from the towns of Stow, Brownfield, Lovell and Fryeburg and Chatham, N.H. Their residents use the bridge. Hundreds of people are in support of the bridge. We want to rehabilitate the bridge or replace it with a new one. We are willing to work to accomplish this! We need to demonstrate a greater sense of urgency and come up with something to stop the removal of the Red Iron Bridge. We would like to have a joint effort with MDOT to save the bridge.”

Jones pointed out that, in 2008, MDOT rated both the superstructure and substructure of the Red Iron Bridge as “Good” and the deck as “Poor,” and that in 2010, MDOT rated the superstructure as “Good”, the substructure as “Poor” and the deck as “Serious.”

At one point in the meeting, Buxton told the attendees, “The Maine Department of Transportation gets $220 million, every biennium. We maintain 2,755 bridges. I get $10 million per year for (bridge) maintenance work. As of a month ago or so, we identified $300 million worth of need, and we have to get that down to the $220 million amount. Then there’s the global aspect of what we’re up against. Do you think I like standing here and taking something from you? But, it’s a low use bridge, with 340 average daily trips. How would it compete on a statewide network? Not very well.”

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