Naples Bridge Groundbreaking Ceremony

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES — For Bob Neault, it’s been a journey getting to this point in time when the road construction along Route 302 is revving into full swing, and when concrete plans have been put onto paper for the future fixed bridge and a revamped causeway with complementary landscaping, a waterfront public park, and an amphitheater.

At the beginning of that journey — a few years ago, when Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials started eyeing the Naples Causeway Bridge as one that had outlived its lifespan, Neault said he was in “the camp of those who wanted to save the swing bridge.” Later, as a member of that group, he approached the Naples Board of Selectmen with an offer to work together, to stay empowered in the then-evolving bridge plans, and to help steer MDOT project plans in a direction that residents approved.

“When you think about a renaissance in Naples — it’s coming to fruition now. We will be having a rebirth of our downtown causeway. The Causeway is going to be completely new and different. And, these plans were driven by cooperation,” said Neault, who is chairman of the Naples Causeway Restoration Committee.

“It’s unquestionably a time of change and something that should be marked,” he said.

The official Bay of Naples Bridge Groundbreaking Ceremony will take place Friday at 2 p.m. at the Naples Causeway, according to Town Secretary Barbara McDonough.  The event commemorates the beginning of construction, which began earlier this month. After the ceremony, refreshments will be served at the Freedom Café & Pub, 923 Roosevelt Trail. The public is invited; and people can R.S.V.P. by calling 693-6364.

Neault stressed that the ceremony may mark a milestone in the building of a new bridge, but it’s more than just building a bridge that’s being celebrated. The $9 million price tag for the MDOT project includes the details many community members suggested and considered as the blueprints were being drawn for the new Naples Causeway, he said.

“Everyone involved in this process has the ability to say, ‘We had a part in that. We helped create it.’” Neault said. “And, we did it by not fighting MDOT, by not fighting amongst ourselves, but by coming together and doing what would be best for town as a whole.”

On Friday afternoon, Neault will join other guest speakers during the groundbreaking event, including State Representative Rich Cebra, MDOT Commissioner David Cole, Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note, and Naples Town Manager Derik Goodine.

MDOT Project Resident Engineer Craig Hurd said he can’t guarantee he’ll be on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony. “The construction is just going to continue” during the event; and he can’t predict where he’ll be needed most on Friday afternoon.

“The ceremony is going to be a wonderful celebration of a long-awaited project,” according to MDOT Communications Project Manager Meg Lane. “The local townspeople came together to arrive at a compromise.”

Neault said various groups with different ideas for the bridge came together. When the committee was newly formed, one of the points residents wanted the state to understand was “the Town of Naples was giving up something of value. We wanted some enhancements of the project to make it worthwhile for the town.”

MDOT employees spent hours with the committee. MDOT walked with residents through bridge proposals. People studied different options to replace the deteriorating bridge — including a $2 million temporary bridge that would be torn down. But, the majority opted to put that money toward a green space concept. The design for a bridge with a higher span was structurally more difficult, would take up more property, and was much more costly, he said. It was heartbreaking for the group to unite in its decision on a bridge that excluded passage for the landmark, the Songo River Queen II, Neault said.

Currently, contractors have been updating committee members on construction taking place, he said. “MDOT is clearly cognizant about the issues of going through the center of the village.”

According to MDOT’s Hurd, one lane will continue to be closed during weekday construction until Memorial Day weekend. The specifications of the project require that two lanes are open to summer traffic from that May holiday until Labor Day weekend. Also, during the week of the Fryeburg Fair 2011, both lanes will be open to accommodate extra congestion.

“This has been, and continues to be, a collaborative and cooperative effort since the creation of this committee. It’s important to us that collaboration continues. There are going to be times of stress there’s no question,” Neault said. “I sat on the bridge for five minutes this morning,” he laughed, “in bumper to bumper traffic.”

“We will work through this phase, and we’ll see significant changes in the landscape of the Causeway by the beginning of the New Year,” Neault said.

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