A car and runner go over a bridge on a sunny day.
A runner and car cross the bridge that carries Stillwater Avenue over the Stillwater River in Old Town, Sept. 23, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

The state has rejected contractors’ bids to rebuild a major Old Town bridge after they came in at nearly double the amount the state budgeted for the project.

The Maine Department of Transportation’s rejection of the contractors’ bids means the replacement of the 70-year-old bridge in poor condition that carries Stillwater Avenue over the Stillwater River will be delayed for the foreseeable future. It also shows how skyrocketing construction costs are vastly inflating the price tags on large public projects.

A department spokesperson on Tuesday told the Bangor Daily News that the agency was still reviewing bids that had come in for the bridge replacement that had been expected to start in February.

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On Wednesday, spokesperson Paul Merrill said the agency had rejected all bids for the project because they were over budget.

The low bid for the work came from Pittsfield-based Cianbro, which quoted a price of $39.2 million on a project for which the Department of Transportation had budgeted $20.1 million.

“We hate rejecting bids because we always want to deliver for the travelers and communities of Maine, but we are also tasked with being responsible stewards of limited public funds, and sometimes that means making the difficult decision to reject bids,” said Bruce Van Note, the state’s transportation commissioner. “We know this important work needs to be done, and we will find a way to do it.”

But it’s unclear what the department will do to ensure the bridge is replaced. Because Stillwater Avenue is a major Old Town artery, the road work was expected to cause traffic disruptions. The department expected to put up a temporary bridge upriver as a detour. Now, the timeline is unknown.

“We’ve become accustomed to going into ‘MacGyver mode’ these past few years, and I suspect that will be the case this time as well,” Merrill said. “It’s too early to say exactly what that means for this project.”

The Department of Transportation in 2019 called off $45 million in planned roadwork as bids came in higher than anticipated.

Roadwork isn’t the only category of construction with inflated costs. The cost of three Northern Light hospital construction projects that are getting underway will cost 40 percent more than initially thought when the state approved them last fall, as building materials have become more expensive and it becomes more difficult to find enough workers.

The Old Town bridge replacement project has been in the works for years. The bridge was originally built in 1952 and is in poor condition, according to a department presentation to the city in 2019.

The early work includes paving on Stillwater Avenue, College Avenue and Bennoch Road, plus the reconstruction of sidewalks within the project zone.

Additionally, the traffic signals at College Avenue and Bennoch Road will be replaced. A pedestrian was killed in 2019 at the Bennoch Road and Stillwater Avenue intersection after he was struck by a truck with a plow attached to the front of it.

The bridge replacement will result in a wider span with a sidewalk.

The road work also involves adding a second left-hand turn lane on College Avenue at its intersection with Stillwater Avenue so cars can more easily turn onto Stillwater in the direction of I-95.

As part of the project, the transportation department identified a handful of properties in the way of the work and purchased two of the buildings, which will be demolished. Another property owner agreed to move a building that is in the way to a different part of the property.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...