TREMONT — Commuters should soon expect to add at least 15 minutes onto their commute from Tremont to Southwest Harbor when the Marsh Bridge closes for two months, set for mid-September.
The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) combined two bridge projects in town into a single contract, which was awarded in 2018 to CPM Constructors. The projects are Clark Bridge, next to the Tremont Consolidated School, and Marsh Bridge, near the town line with Southwest Harbor.
Work on the Clark Bridge next to the school is nearing its final stages. Now, the DOT is planning to close the Marsh Bridge for 60 days.
Within the contract was a stipulation that work on the Clark Bridge needed to be done by the start of the 2019-20 school year. A single lane of traffic is now traveling on the newly constructed bridge. School begins Thursday, Aug. 29, for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.
“Probably mid-next week we’re going to keep two-lane traffic at night, but one lane during the day,” said Tim Hebert, the DOT state resident for the projects. “We’ll have most everything else done so it won’t hinder the children going to school.”
Also written into the contract with CPM is a stipulation that the Marsh Bridge must have one lane of traffic during the project for all except 60 days. During that 60-day period, both lanes of traffic can be closed. But, most importantly, that period can not fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
According to Hebert, the company intends to use up the 60-day allowance at the start of the project and close the bridge to through traffic shortly after Labor Day.
“They’ll have a full detour going around Seawall Road,” said Hebert.
To travel between Tremont and Southwest Harbor, vehicles will be detoured onto Route 102A/Seawall Road for two months until one lane of traffic re-opens. Although selectmen approved small repairs on state roads by the public works department, Southwest Harbor Town Manager Justin VanDongen is not sure the Seawall Road will hold up well when traffic increases.
“We’ve talked to the state about the condition of Seawall Road,” he said.
Not only will there be more commuter traffic, but the closure will take place during the time many boats are taken out of the water and transported for the winter storage. And don’t forget the leaf peepers.
“We’ll see an uptick in tour buses during that time,” said VanDongen, who says the residents of Tremont will be most affected.
“I don’t know what we really can do,” said Tremont Town Manager Chris Saunders. “I think that the worst of it will be for the businesses on Bass Harbor Road.”
Gott’s Store, located a short distance from the bridge, will become more of a destination for travelers than a place they pass by during the closure.
“It’s definitely going to have an impact on our sales,” said Jenn Gray, one of the owners of Gott’s Store. “But there’s really not a lot we can do.”
Gray added the store is already experiencing a staff shortage and has reduced hours of operation. They will continue to open at 3:30 a.m. Monday through Friday but will close the kitchen at 8 p.m. and the store at 9 p.m. those days.
Seal Cove Road, the only possible shortcut into Southwest Harbor from some parts of Tremont is closed each season on Nov. 15, weather permitting. This year it may see a bit more through traffic right up to that point than in years past.
Southwest Harbor Week and Oktoberfest, hosted by the Southwest Harbor and Tremont Chamber of Commerce, is set to take place the second week of October. General manager Cynthia Crow doesn’t anticipate the closure will have much of an affect on the festivities.
“That really should not impact Oktoberfest,” said Crow, who figures people will be used to an adjusted commute by then. “People from Bass Harbor area will have to re-route.”