Better Than New? Fixing Naples's Causeway Bridge Discussed
January 29, 2008 -
NAPLES -- Discussion at a Wednesday meeting in Naples led to the possibility of renovating the existing bridge on the Naples Causeway, rather than constructing a fixed bridge.
The meeting served as an informational session before a public hearing that will be held on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at Songo Locks Elementary School.
Jim Wentworth, the project manager from the Maine Department of Transportation, listened to feedback from business owners who rely on boat traffic on Long Lake and Brandy Pond.
"We're telling you, you're doing the wrong thing, for lots and lots of reasons," said Jim Allen, owner of the Naples Marina.
Naples residents will be asked to comment on state plans to replace the bridge over the Naples Causeway Wednesday, Jan. 30. Repairs to the swing span over the Chute River may be an alternative to the 12-foot fixed span proposed by the state.
Del Wescott, who owns a barge business that requires free passage between Long Lake and Brandy Pond, said he will not be able to pass through the 12-foot fixed bridge, which would limit his work to one side of the bridge.
"If the bridge is a fixed bridge, it's going to impact my business in a large way," said Wescott.
While Wentworth said that building a new drawbridge does not make economic sense from the state's standpoint, rehabilitation has not been ruled out.
"What about repairing? Why does everything have to be new?" said Frank Gerrish, owner of the Songo River Queen II, which was a focal point of Wednesday's discussions.
The Songo River Queen II is a famous tourist attraction, in Maine and elsewhere. Gerrish and Talbot admitted that the business could survive if it was limited to trips on Long Lake, but that bookings would be greatly reduced.
"Most of the people want the river trip or the locks trip because it's different," said Talbot.
The state originally planned to replace the swing bridge, which allows boat traffic to pass through the two bodies of water freely, but the original cost estimate of $11 million proved too low.
After a second look, MDOT estimated the project would cost about $18 million, a price they are not willing to spend on the project. Now, the state plans to build a fixed bridge for a cost of $6 million, with a clearance of 12 feet.
Allen said his business is looking to sell two boats, valued at around $200,000, because they will not clear under a fixed bridge.
The state has said that the fixed bridge, which will be seven feet higher than the existing bridge without having to open, will allow about 90 percent of boat traffic to pass through, without having to stop traffic on Route 302. But larger boats, like the Songo River Queen II, will be stuck on one side of the bridge.
When the state moves ahead with the project, construction will begin in fall and should be complete by June 2009. A draw bridge would take up to three years to complete.
Carl Talbot, manager of the Songo River Queen, pointed out that as restaurants, marinas, and others lose business because of reduced waterway access, the state will suffer too.
"At least 80 percent of us in this room are going to suffer economic loss (if a fixed bridge is built). That means there will be less tax revenue for the state. I think you guys are shooting yourselves," said Talbot. "I can tell you that the Songo River Queen, which goes through that bridge two times a day in the summertime, gets 60 to 65 percent of its total revenue from those two trips."
David Sherlock, manager of the bridge program for the state, said that there are drawbacks to rehabilitation instead of replacement. A new bridge would last longer, and would cost less in the long run.
"Any time we look at rehab versus replacement, we have to look at life cycles cost," said Sherlock. "We wouldn't be doing our jobs as public servants if we didn't represent the taxpayers of the entire state."
Accoording to Rep. Rich Cebra (R-Naples), the department has limited funds because of increased spending in other areas, like education.
"We have a priority problem in this state," said Cebra.
Wentworth said that he will have accurate figures for the cost of rehabilitation on hand at the Jan. 30 public hearing, which he said will attract a more diverse swatch of Naples community members, as well as those from neighboring towns.
Naples business owner Skip Meeker urged the Wentworth to work with the town, keeping the long term effects of the bridge project in mind.
"The issue is 'what's going to happen with the future? What's going to happen with the business climate around here?'," said Meeker.
Lakes: Brandy Pond, Long Lake, Sebago Lake
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