Motorists who were looking forward to the opening of the new international bridge between Edmundston and Madawaska, Maine, will have to wait a few more months, and it’s going to cost more than expected.
The bridge, which is being built to replace the current century-old structure, was scheduled to open before the end of the year, but that has been bumped back until the spring because construction of the building to house the U.S. customs offices is running behind schedule.
“Opening of the new bridge needs to be co-ordinated with the opening of the new U.S. land port of entry,” said Paul Merrill, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Transportation. “The two elements function as parts of a broader transportation system,” he said in an emailed statement.
“When the port is ready to open, the bridge will be ready.”
The port of entry is a separate project being administered by the U.S. General Services Administration. Spokesperson Paul Hughes said it’s ‘complex’ and the delay is “consistent with the general construction industry.”
The port of entry should be open to traffic in mid-March, he said, and the new bridge will initially open with lane restrictions and the same 4.5-tonne weight restriction that’s in place now, but these should be removed in early May.
The entire bridge project — including demolition of the old bridge — is still expected to be completed by June 30, 2025, according to Maine.
Province’s share is nearly $30.5M
The project is also over budget, with a total overall cost of nearly $99 million US, up from the original estimate of $97.5 million US.
New Brunswick’s share is $22.2 million US, or nearly $30.5 million Cdn, according to the province. Tyler McLean, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, did not respond to questions about if or by how much that has increased.
The greatest cost increase is due to a contract clause that protected contractors and suppliers from the rising cost of steel during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Maine.
Delay unfortunate, mayor says
Edmundston Mayor Eric Marquis called the delayed opening unfortunate.
Cross-border shopping has decreased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, but many people in both Edmundston and Madawaska have relatives on the other side and use the bridge regularly.
The old bridge, which the province has described as approaching the end of its life, with its deck and superstructure in poor condition and showing signs of advanced deterioration, has also been closed to large transport trucks for six years due to weight restrictions, noted Marquis.
That means the trucks have to go around through Saint Leonard, or through Clair and Fort Kent, Maine, instead.
“So that is a pretty long detour they have to take,” he said. “It’s at least 40 kilometres on the Canadian side, and doing the same part on the American side. So it’s almost 100 kilometres.”
‘Amazing’ to document transformation
Edmundston residents have been watching the bridge’s progress with interest, according to the mayor.
Every day he sees people at high vantage points in the city, with their binoculars in hand.
Madawaska, Maine, resident Steven Deschaine has been documenting the bridge construction from the beginning. It started as a hobby, after he bought his first drone camera and was looking for something interesting to take aerial photos of, he said.
But once he posted his photos on social media, they seemed to attract a lot of attention, and it has now become a part-time business for him.
“I think a lot of people were just like in awe of, you know, them going in the [St. John River], digging the big holes for the pylons in the riverbed and the big, large cranes in the area, and tearing down the old McDonald’s, and tearing down some old houses.
“It was just amazing to watch the transformation of the land and the landscape as it was built — especially from the drone’s view. You can just see the the structure being built every month and how it changes from the sky. It was pretty amazing.”
The new bridge is “beautiful” and the talk of the town, said Deschaine, who recently had his family’s portrait taken there.
“Everything’s kind of been on a downward trajectory as far as economically, growing up here. We had a new elementary school when I was a young kid and other than that, there’s [been] nothing really major built here,” said the 34-year-old.
“And just to finally see something new built, a big project like that,” is exciting, he said.
“Everyone’s kind of asking, you know, ‘When’s it gonna open?'”
Deschaine is eager too. His fiancée lives on the Canadian side, so he crosses back and forth “quite a bit.”
He recalls seeing a photo of the old bridge opening, when Canadians from Edmundston and Americans from Madawaska met in the middle for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“There’s people hanging on top of the bridge. I mean, it’s just packed. So you can tell all the way back then, you know, 100 years ago, there was excitement for that bridge, and now it’s like the anticipation is building up for this bridge.
“It’s basically, you know, the link between these two communities,” he said. “We always shared common bonds.”
“The people in this area … we’re all related, we all know each other. So the bridge is very important to us to keep that tradition alive of, you know, all being together as one.”