Caribou’s Aroostook River bridge will get its first major upgrade since 1950s

3 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – The bridge that crosses the Aroostook River on Caribou’s Fort Street will receive its first major upgrade since being built in the early 1950s.

Starting in 2026, the Maine DOT plans to replace the bridge’s existing concrete surface with new concrete, as well as new rails and lighting. 

The DOT first constructed the bridge in 1952 to serve as a major connector between Fort Street and the start of Route 1 in Caribou.

Though the average lifespan of most bridge surfaces is 50 years, Caribou’s bridge has held up for all 72 years, said Paul Merrill, Maine DOT communications director.

“Think of it like buying a new car. Some will last for 400,000 miles, while others last for 150,000 miles. A lot depends on maintenance,” Merrill said. “We have a good bridge maintenance program [at Maine DOT], so that could have played a factor.”

There have been no safety concerns with the Fort Street bridge, but it’s important that the DOT pursue the project before drivers begin encountering major issues with the bridge’s roadway, Merrill said.

“When bridge surfaces approach the ends of their useful lives, they begin to develop potholes or punch-throughs that need to be patched, ” Merrill said. “There’s a certain point where the costs of ongoing repair exceed the costs of replacing the asset.”

CARIBOU, Maine — Feb. 5, 2024 — The Maine DOT is planning a $17 million upgrade of the surface, rails and lights on the Fort Street bridge, overlooking the Aroostook River in Caribou, to begin in 2026. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Currently, the DOT intends to put the project out to bid in 2026 for construction later that year or in 2027. The $17 million total cost is based on the average costs per square foot for similar projects, but could change after preliminary engineering. Maine DOT plans to pursue a federal grant to fund the project, Merrill said.

The bridge last received structural steel work in 2005 that was not related to its surface, Merrill noted.

The bridge also connects parts of Caribou’s snowmobile and ATV trails. When snow covers one or both of the bridge’s sidewalks, that forces snowmobile operators to ride much closer to traffic and risk their safety, said Gary Marquis, Caribou Parks & Recreation superintendent.

Marquis suggested that Maine DOT consider eliminating one of the bridge’s sidewalks to create more space for snowmobile and ATV riders near the bridge rails.

“To my knowledge, there have not been major safety issues, but right now riders are basically in the travel lanes [in the winter] because they can’t ride on the sidewalks,” Marquis said. “Getting rid of a sidewalk would make things easier and safer.”

Merrill said Tuesday that Maine DOT is still in the initial phases of the bridge project but will gather more public input before making final decisions.

Maine DOT sent surveyors to review the project last fall and plans to conduct preliminary geotechnical engineering this summer to determine potential final costs. 

Merrill said that DOT will schedule a public meeting this spring to inform residents of the project, then another after engineering is complete.

This story was updated to include information from Caribou Parks & Recreation Superintendent Gary Marquis.