PORTLAND, Maine — The new $63 million Veterans Memorial Bridge is on budget and on schedule to be open this summer, and builders say the massive structure will have a 100-year life span.

In addition to the extra durability, designers point out the new bridge will have something else its 1954 predecessor lacked: style.

Mark Johnson, senior landscape architect with SMRT Inc., described the extra-wide 12-foot pedestrian lane, three stylized overlooks decorated with historical displays and sculptured aluminum reeds, and small landscaped plazas on both ends paying tribute to America’s armed forces.

“A major stakeholder concern early on was a reaction to what the old bridge was, which is basically a viaduct,” Johnson said Tuesday during a media tour of the new bridge, which is under construction and about three months away from opening.

Johnson said his team of designers set forth to draw up a structure with the personality of a “gateway” from the highway to the Portland downtown, “instead of an interstate.”

In came the urban-looking streetlights and substructure lighting, as well as the balconylike semicircles along the bicycling and walking lane, with markers describing aspects of Portland’s military heritage.

Johnson noted that the 1954 span being replaced by the new bridge is also called the Veterans Memorial Bridge, but there are no veterans memorials associated with it. The new version, which runs roughly parallel to the old one across the Fore River connecting Portland with South Portland, aims to rectify that.

Construction began on the new bridge in the spring of 2010, and will finish in late June or early July. At that point, the nearly 22,000 vehicles that cross over the river at this location each day will begin using the new structure, and contractor Reed & Reed Inc. will start the painstaking dismantling of the earlier one. The Maine Department of Transportation had deemed the old bridge to be deteriorating badly enough to need outright replacement.

The flare that distinguishes the new bridge from the old one noted by Johnson is not yet visible. Dustin Littlefield, assistant project manager for Reed & Reed, said crews are preparing concrete curbing and installing steel handrails. A retaining wall supporting the South Portland end of the project is nearing completion, he said.

“Things are coming together smoothly,” Littlefield said. “We’re on time and on budget.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.