Traffic backed up on Route 1 in Belfast Wednesday as construction crews replaced the pavement on the Goose River bridge for the second time in a month. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Months after the completion of a Route 1 bridge replacement project in Belfast, traffic on the busy coastal highway was delayed Wednesday because construction workers had to replace the pavement for the second time in three weeks.

But officials say not to worry: this time they are really, really done. They hope.

“We’re repaving today. We should be done today, and it should be final-striped by next Tuesday,” Wayne Berry, the division manager for Hampden-based Northeast Paving said Wednesday afternoon.

The repaving was mandated by the Maine Department of Transportation after the pavement didn’t pass inspection. Still, the temporary return to a one-lane road, heavy machinery and construction workers holding “Stop” signs by the Goose River bridge took a toll on people who live and work in the area.

At one point Wednesday afternoon, northbound traffic on Route 1 was backed up from the bridge nearly to the intersection with Route 3 — about a mile and a half away.

“It’s just annoying,” Emily Latham Melotto, a cosmetologist at Forever Young Salon, located near the construction site, said. “I don’t know why they keep doing this.”

Just up the road at the artists’ cooperative Lupine Cottage, only one customer had managed to get in to shop that day, according to photographer Paula Cannon. The construction project is located close to their entrance.

“Those that know the area might be able to find their way in. For the average person, no,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”

The Maine DOT is managing the bridge project, and contracted with Northeast Paving to do the work. The previous bridge — which many in the community may not even have known was a bridge at all — had been deemed structurally deficient in 2014. But funding issues delayed the project for several years, according to Devan Eaton, project manager for the Maine DOT.

The old buried slab bridge essentially acted as a culvert, he said.

“It was just reaching the end of its service life,” he said.

Northeast Paving won the bids for two culvert projects in Belfast — the Goose River bridge and another one on the Poors Mill Road. Altogether, the projects cost $3.7 million, with probably $2.5 million of that going to the Goose River bridge, Eaton said.

Construction began on the Route 1 bridge in the fall of 2020. The first step was to install a temporary bridge, which happened in the fall and winter of that year. Then, in the spring of 2021, traffic was shifted to the temporary bridge in order to begin work on the replacement.

The project had some delays, caused by pandemic-related material shortages and an issue with the initial installation of the temporary bridge.

“It was kind of a perfect storm for a lot of things that caused it to take longer than typical,” Eaton said.

But work was completed last fall, when the temporary bridge was removed and the new bridge was paved.

The surface and intermediate layers of pavement fell short, however, when the Maine DOT did its required density tests. The pavement can’t be tested until it’s been put in place and gone over with rollers, Eaton said.

“If it doesn’t have the correct density and it doesn’t have the structural resistance it’s expected to have, it could fail prematurely,” he said.

The Maine DOT required Northeast Paving to remove and replace it, which the company did on May 24. But the surface of that new pavement again did not pass the density test, Eaton said. Pavement can be affected by factors that include the weather and the temperature of the mixture when it’s put down, he said.

“Pavement can be very flighty sometimes. It can be finicky,” he said. “Failing twice — that’s rare. It happens, but it’s not common, typically.”

Northeast Paving has to cover the cost of the replacement work.

“We just want to make sure we’re getting what we pay for,” Eaton said. “We want to make sure we’re providing quality. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

For his part, Berry said that the paving is “probably the one hiccup” on the bridge replacement job. It can be challenging at times to meet all the quality specifications for as small an amount of pavement as the bridge work required, he said.

“Just the surface paving, it’s the only thing we could have done better at,” he said. “Otherwise, the way the job looks, it’s a pretty impressive job … We got praise on that job the whole way.”  

Having the replacement bridge made it possible to keep the two-way flow of traffic on Route 1 while his company was building the new bridge. Local businesses and people were great to work with as well, Berry said, adding that in general, any big job can be taxing to those who live and work near it.

“In construction, everybody wants the roads fixed, but nobody wants us fixing the roads,” he said. “The public has to understand that it just takes time.”

Latham Melotto of Forever Young Salon said she’s looking forward to just one thing regarding the repaving project.

“At least it’s going to be over soon,” she said.