A sign warns drivers of a bridge replacement project on Route 15 at the Deer Isle-Stonington town line on Monday. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A fatal motorcycle crash Sunday highlighted a hazard that’s been facing drivers in Stonington and Deer Isle this summer.

Local officials in the two towns have expressed concern for years about the vulnerability of the low-lying causeway that connects Little Deer Isle to the main island and the suspension bridge that arcs over Eggemoggin Reach, connecting Little Deer Isle to the mainland.

Climate change could render the causeway unusable from storm damage or sea level rise, while a catastrophic failure on the bridge — either natural or human-caused — could have consequences that last months or even years.

But this summer, it has been roads on the main island that have posed more immediate problems. The fatal accident on Sunset Road and its subsequent closure by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office led to some motorists being stuck for several hours.

Normally, two roads connect Stonington to Deer Isle village, but one of them — Route 15 — has been closed to through traffic since May while the state works to construct a new bridge where Holt Pond flows into the ocean. With both Sunset Road and Route 15 being closed on Sunday, it wasn’t possible to drive from Stonington to Deer Isle, the only way to drive to the mainland.

Residents of Stonington and Deer Isle are used to occasional detours because of the limited network of roads that connects the causeway to downtown Stonington and a few smaller islands that lie off Route 15, Evelyn Duncan, a Stonington Select Board member, said.

“You always worry, because if an ambulance or fire truck can’t get through, it becomes a little more critical,” Duncan said. “But we have obviously survived.”

There have been other recent closures and obstacles to deal with. A week before Sunday’s fatal motorcycle accident, a police standoff temporarily closed the roads just east of Deer Isle’s village, forcing motorists to use other routes. Over the weekend, strong winds from Hurricane Lee pushed some trees down into roadways, partially or fully blocking the roads until the trees could be removed.

“It’s a vulnerability we should be thinking about,” Jim Fisher, Deer Isle’s town manager, said about the island’s road network. But he said the causeway remains a bigger concern because its closure would affect people in both towns. Simultaneous closures on the island that prevent travel from one town to the other have “been very rare,” he said.

Another unexpected issue has been the length of time the Holt Pond project has taken. The Maine Department of Transportation had hoped to complete it by the end of August, but that goal has been pushed back because materials have been delayed.

“The contractor’s supplier for the precast concrete beams was unable to manufacture and deliver the materials in order for the contractor to install them in early August,” Paul Merrill, a department spokesperson, said. The materials are there now, and the bridge is expected to be  reopened the second week of October.

Residents are looking forward to having the project done, Duncan said. When that happens, they may have a break for a few months before the state starts work on another local project: replacing a different bridge that connects the village of Oceanville to the rest of Stonington.

“We hope they’ll wait at least through the winter,” she said.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....