Maine to award contract for new international bridge to Edmundston soon

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The existing Edmundston Madawaska Bridge linking New Brunswick and Maine will be replaced by a new structure that is expected to begin construction this year.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
The existing Edmundston Madawaska Bridge linking New Brunswick and Maine will be replaced by a new structure that is expected to begin construction this year. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Maine officials will open bids on Wednesday from three companies seeking to build a new international bridge linking the state and Edmundston, N.B., ahead of awarding one of those companies the contract for the work.

Paul Merrill, a public information officer with the Maine Department of Transportation, said the bids will be reviewed with the aim of awarding the contract for the new bridge within four to six weeks and construction starting in April.

Merrill called opening the bids a significant milestone for the project, estimated to cost about $108 million ($86 million US).

"This has been years in the works and there are still years of work to do," Merrill said in an interview Tuesday. "This is a big project with a big price tag that involves state government, provincial government and two federal governments, as well as all the agencies that oversee this type of work.

"We're excited to open bids on Wednesday. We're excited to award the contract to continue the work to replace this bridge."

Existing bridge deteriorating

Three companies were pre-qualified to bid on the work: Caldwell & Ross of Fredericton, Cianbro in Maine and Reed & Reed, Inc. in Maine.

In a followup email, Merrill said Caldwell & Ross did not submit a bid, while Reed & Reed and Cianbro submitted bids valued at $86.5 million and $95 million, respectively.

Plans to replace the bridge have been discussed and in the works for years.

The existing bridge, built in 1921, was restricted to vehicles weighing less than five tons because of its deteriorating condition in 2017. Its concrete piers are cracking and a report described it as having "significant corrosion" on its steel beams.

The existing bridge will be removed once the new structure is complete.

The bridge would be built at an angle across the St. John River so a new U.S. border entry point about 400 metres upriver can be built.
The bridge would be built at an angle across the St. John River so a new U.S. border entry point about 400 metres upriver can be built.

The plan calls for building the new structure at an angle across the St. John River so the existing Canada Border Services Agency port of entry can be used, while the U.S. port of entry will be constructed at a new site a few hundred metres upriver.

The designs include space for snowmobiles to use the bridge, linking extensive trail networks on both sides of the St. John River.

"It is an enormous project," Merrill said.

"It is important to the commerce of communities on both sides of the border. It is a intricate process in that we are replacing a one hundred-year-old bridge and it involves co-ordination with our counterparts in New Brunswick, in Ottawa, in Washington, D.C., here in Maine, and a lot of environmental permitting because it is a bridge over water."

The U.S. General Services Administration awarded a $55 million ($44.5 million US) contract earlier this month for design and construction of the new port of entry on the American side. The port of entry, to be built concurrently with the new bridge, is expected to be complete in late 2023.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency determined in 2019 that a federal environmental assessment of the bridge plans is not required.

The New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure filed an environmental impact assessment in March 2019 for work that will take place within Canada. Approval was granted in a decision on Dec. 20, 2020, though that decision was only posted publicly this month.

U.S. environmental approval was granted in February, 2020.

The U.S. government is providing $45 million ($36 million US) for the cost of the bridge. The rest is cost-shared between the state and provincial governments, according to a 2019 news release.

Merrill said that traffic is expected to begin flowing across the new bridge at the end of 2023.

Traffic will continue to use the old structure while work is underway on the new bridge, though Merrill said there may be short-term closures lasting several hours or days to demolish the existing bridge in 2024.