PROSPECT – Demolition of the old Waldo-Hancock Bridge is expected to begin on November 1, according to Doug Coombs project manager for Maine Department of Transportation, who said workers are currently finishing preparations at the site.
The bridge, which has been out of service for six years, opened in 1931 crossing the roughly 1,100 foot wide “narrows” of the Penobscot River between Prospect and Verona Island.
It was the first long-span suspension bridge in Maine and used a trussing system that would later be used in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Triborough Bridge in New York City. A bond for $850,000 construction cost was paid through a bridge toll that was lifted in 1953.
Sections of the deck will be lowered by crane to barges below and the bridge will be peeled back in layers from the center to avoid putting too much stress on any of the structural elements. The cables will then be removed, followed by the towers.
After 70 years of service, several attempts were made in the early 2000s to restore deteriorated suspension cables but the project was ultimately abandoned and a new bridge was built just to the south. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge — likewise cutting-edge in its construction — opened in 2006.
For six years, the bridges have stood side-by-side. In August, MDOT accepted a low bid of $5.3 million from S&R Corp. of Lowell, Mass., to dismantle the old Waldo-Hancock Bridge.
Coombs said some symbolic pieces of the old bridge will be removed in the next week, including flag poles, which will go to Prospect, Verona Island and Bucksport. Sections of beams and cables along with other artifacts will be salvaged for a historical display, with informational plaques to be located on the old abutment on the Prospect end of the span, he said.
“You’ll be able to look out over the water and see where the bridge was,” he said.
Wistful gazes across the river will have to wait until next July when Coombs said the demolition is expected to be finished.
Between now and then, he said, the old bridge will be systematically dismantled in a sequence he likened to erecting the bridge, but in reverse. Sections of the deck will be lowered by crane to barges below, he said, describing how the bridge would be peeled back in layers from the center to avoid putting too much stress on any of the structural elements. The cables would then be removed, followed by the towers.
Lead abatement on the old painted girders will be done as part of the demolition, Coombs said, including during any cutting and staging of scrap materials.
“All of those areas will be contained,” he said. “There will be no lead getting into the water or the atmosphere.”
Automobile traffic on Penobscot Narrows Bridge may occasionally be slowed or stopped to accommodate large vehicles going to and from the site, but Coombs said any disruptions there would be brief.
Boat traffic may see some delays during removal of the middle portion of the bridge deck, but Coombs said the 400-foot wide shipping channel through the Narrows would make it easier to accommodate passing vessels during the demolition of the end sections.
The contractor is in the process of developing a synchronization plan for boat traffic that will go before MDOT and the U.S. Coast Guard for approval, he said, adding that temporary reduction in boat speeds will likely take effect with the plan.
Penobscot Bay Pilot reporter Ethan Andrews can be reached at email@example.com or (207) 323-9583