AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – A 2016 report of Maine’s infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s bridges a grade of C-.
That same annual report gave the entire country a C+ for its bridges in 2017.
The Maine Department of Transportation’s Chief Engineer, Joyce Taylor, said that Maine’s bridges are safe.
“I don’t lie awake at night worrying about Maine’s bridges,” said Taylor. “The public should know that Maine’s bridges are safe.”
There are 3,714 bridges in Maine, according to the ASCE report. The Maine DOT owns and maintains 2,731 of those. Taylor said the DOT inspects those bridges every two years. Taylor said if the bridge shows signs of wear, such as corroded steel, or anything that could impact its safety, the DOT inspects it once a year. Taylor said about 10 percent of the bridges they operate are considered to be in “poor” condition.
“The safe thing is always to close a bridge, but it might not be the right thing to do for the public, so the hard decision is to keep open a bridge,” said Taylor. “When it comes to something that is wrong with that bridge that could impact safety, that’s when engineering rules. It has to.”
Taylor said the DOT now spends 20 percent of its bridge funding on bridge preservation efforts. In 2014, the DOT spent about $70 million a year on bridges. She said a 2007 report suggested that they spend $140 million a year on bridges. She said if the DOT continues spending $70 million a year on bridges, then 40 percent of Maine’s bridges could be posted, or limited to the amount of traffic or weight, within 25 years.
Now the DOT spends about $121 million a year on bridges to prevent that issue, according to Taylor. She said they plan to spend that much through the year 2019.
“Every time we can add years of life to a bridge, it means we’re pushing out the need to replace that bridge further,” said Taylor.
The DOT is replacing the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge which connects Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The bridge became stuck in the “raised” position in late August of 2016. It was 76 years old, which Taylor said is the expected lifespan for many bridges. The new bridge is scheduled to open in October.
Running parallel to the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is the Piscataqua River Bridge, along Interstate 95. Taylor said the Piscataqua River Bridge carries about 75 percent of the state’s freight imports and exports.
“That’s really a critical bridge for us,” said Taylor.
The Piscataqua River Bridge is considered one of the state’s 36 “forever” bridges: a bridge that would be too expensive to replace or to inconvenient to close down or post. The Department is constantly maintaining these forever bridges.
“Maybe it’s more expensive today, but if we can get the extra 25 years, it’s worth it,” said Taylor.