By Sen. Susan M. Collins
There is an urgent need to repair and replace Maine’s aging bridges. Our state currently has 314 bridges in poor condition, the seventh highest percentage in the country. As the chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, improving the safety, efficiency and reliability of transportation infrastructure throughout Maine is one of my top priorities.
My strong advocacy is paying dividends. Maine was recently awarded $38.1 million in federal funding to replace and rehabilitate seven bridges around our state in five communities and four counties. These bridges are critical for the transport of freight and mobility of residents for the communities of Waterville, Solon, Rumford, Bangor and Old Town.
The funding was awarded through the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Program, which leverages federal grants to help communities invest in high-priority projects to fix crumbling infrastructure.
I have championed funding for INFRA and am a strong proponent for Maine projects. This year, only 20 projects across the country were chosen for this highly selective program. Last year, I successfully secured $36 million in INFRA funding toward the replacement of the Madawaska International Bridge. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a strain on the Maine Department of Transportation’s budget due to plummeting gas tax revenues, has made federal investments like these even more crucial.
The selected bridges include two structures that carry I-95 over Webb Road in Waterville, an I-95 bridge in Bangor, Main Street bridge in Solon, Red Bridge in Rumford and two bridges in Old Town. All of the bridges are functionally obsolete, having been continually repaired over 90 years in some cases, and are critical mobility links in their communities. If these bridges were allowed to continue to deteriorate, they would become subject to weight restrictions and eventual closure, resulting in substantial detours, traffic congestion and economic harm.
For example, the I-95 bridge in Bangor is vital to the supply chain of goods and services for the economy of the northern half of Maine. A disruption in service provided by this bridge would force much of the interstate traffic onto city streets, substantially lengthening travel times, and could lead to safety issues.
Similarly, the two bridges in Old Town that carry Stillwater Avenue over the Stillwater River are now 68 years old. Closure or severe weight limitations could result in a doubling of traffic in downtown Orono. Absent these bridges, travel time and costs would negatively affect the Penobscot Indian community. The bridges are also a crucial link in the supply chain of food, fuel and supplies, which, if disrupted, would increase costs and time to provide those services. Residents and businesses in the city of Old Town, located on Orson Island, and in the communities of Milford and Bradley to the north, would be harmed by bridge closure or load limitations.
Since 2009, when I became a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have secured more than $656 million in competitive transportation grants for Maine. Federal competitive grants are a critical component of funding for Maine’s transportation needs, including highways, bridges, ports, airports and rail networks.
In addition to improving our state’s transportation infrastructure, this funding will create and sustain much-needed jobs at a time when our communities are struggling due to the pandemic. By enhancing the efficiency of our transportation network, these bridge replacement projects will deliver long-lasting benefits that will be felt by Maine families and businesses.
Susan Collins is Maine’s senior U.S. senator.