Looking north from South Blue Hill, the reinforced concrete tied arch bridge at Blue Hill Falls, built in 1928, is slated for replacement. FILE PHOTO

Blue Hill’s Falls Bridge is history

BLUE HILL — Let the elegy begin.

The historic, scenic, oft-photographed, frequently painted but steadily deteriorating Falls Bridge connecting Blue Hill to South Blue Hill and lands beyond will be replaced with a new $8.9-million span.

Maine Department of Transportation officials were to meet with Blue Hill’s Bridge Advisory Committee Feb. 13 at the town office but snowy roads interfered.

So, DOT Bridge Project Manager Andrew Lathe phoned it in.

That’s to say Lathe called Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz’s iPhone to answer questions from the committee and the dozen or so citizens present.

“After a thorough investigation of options, including rehabilitation of the existing Falls Bridge, the preferred alternative is to replace the existing Falls Bridge superstructure with an enhanced girder bridge superstructure,” the DOT stated in a press release distributed at the meeting.

Lathe declined to offer a rendering of the proposed “girder bridge.”

“The department and the Bridge Advisory Committee will be working together this year on aesthetic treatments for items like the enhanced girder and bridge railings,” Lathe said via email. “I do not want to impact that process by providing a graphic that may not be a fair representation of the final product.”

The DOT has had numerous public hearings over the past 15 years about the bridge and what might be done to shore it up. At those meetings, many residents shared hope that the bridge might be rehabilitated.

However, rehabilitation has a “substantially higher construction and service life costs than the replacement alternative,” the DOT stated.

Also, a rehab option would have a 50-year lifespan. A new bridge should last 100 years, the state said.

Another request had been for use of a temporary bridge to allow police, fire and ambulance access in an emergency as well as for convenience of residents. Residents of South Blue Hill will add at least 20 minutes to their commute to Blue Hill, depending on which route they take during bridge construction.

However, Lathe said accelerated bridge construction methods would be employed along with a short-term road closure of up to 60 days.”

Meanwhile, traffic will detour around the project site on routes 172 and 175 during bridge removal and replacement, Lathe said.

There is more time to enjoy the Falls Bridge as design work for its replacement will continue into 2020 with construction occurring either 2021 or 2022.

The Falls Bridge, built in 1926, was built as a “concrete-tied rainbow through arch.”

“One of only two remaining rainbow arch bridges in Maine, this is an impressive, ornate example in a beautiful setting,” stated a citizen run website called historicbridges.org.

The site was initially formed to research and educate the public about the bridges of Michigan but has since expanded to many other states, including Maine.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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