History of the Ticonic Bridge

The 113-year-old Ticonic Bridge is scheduled to be replaced as part of a $52.8 million construction project, $25 million of which will be provided as a grant by the Federal Highway Administration. It will be undertaken to address significant deterioration of the structure and will provide a new and modern structure that will serve the community for the next 100 years.

Downstream view of Ticonic bridge over stream
The existing Ticonic Bridge in 2020, viewed from downstream

Connecting Waterville and Winslow on U.S. Route 201, the Ticonic Bridge has long history, beginning first as a steel truss bridge in the 1800’s. In the early 1900’s a concrete arch trolly bridge was constructed and opened for use in December 1909. When opened for use, the 500-foot track spanned the Kennebec River from Winslow to Waterville at the junction of Main and Bridge Streets. In its heyday, the trolley system serving the two towns carried over 2 million passengers a year, although the use of trolleys declined significantly when automobiles came into greater usage in the 1920s.

Concept drawing of Ticonic bridge
The Ticonic Bridge in 1920, with iron truss and arch structure in the background. Courtesy of Maine Memory Network

The bridge suffered significant damage during the Great Flood in March 1936 after a large piece of ice crashed into one of the stone piers, causing two of the truss spans to collapse into the Kennebec River. As a result, reconstruction was undertaken as part of the U.S. Works Program Flood Relief projects. The work included leaving the concrete arch as it was, removing the failed truss, reconstructing the piers, and building a new riveted steel girder structure to replace the truss, creating the first sizable roadway for vehicular traffic in a four-span configuration. The bridge was widened again in 1970 in a five-span configuration to better accommodate the increased vehicular traffic experienced since the previous widening efforts.

Image of bridge after truss collapse during a flood
The original iron truss partially collapsed during the flood of 1936

Currently, the Ticonic Bridge has reached the end of its useful life and is scheduled for replacement. The project will be a major undertaking due to the scale of the project and the difficult working conditions at the project site. After a thorough assessment, the MaineDOT project team determined that attempts to repair or rehabilitate it would not restore the full integrity of the bridge, nor would it provide the desired service life for such an important and heavily travelled structure.

River view of deterioration on arches of bridge
The concrete arch of the Ticonic Bridge shows signs of advanced deterioration

Following an involved study of constructability and traffic management options, significant discussions with potential contractors, and engagement with the public and the municipalities of Waterville and Winslow, the project team determined the most prudent approach to replacing the bridge would be to complete the project in two stages. This is needed to allow the contractor to safely and efficiently complete construction activities while accommodating traffic operations. The staged construction approach will involve completing the work in two major construction phases involving the removal and replacement of the old bridge one-half at a time.

Eastbound traffic will continue to be served on the existing bridge for the majority of the construction duration with westbound traffic detoured off site. To accommodate critical construction activities, the bridge will be closed for up to 25 weeks. At the Contractor’s option, the closure may be split into two closures totaling 25 weeks rather than having a single continuous closure.

Two-lanes of eastbound traffic will be maintained during peak hours. Traffic reductions to one-lane of traffic will be allowed during off-peak travel hours. There will be some night bridge closures as needed to support contractor operations, but measures will be taken to allow for smooth traffic flow as much as practical while construction is underway. All westbound traffic will be detoured off site throughout the duration of the project. A dedicated right turn lane will be created for southbound traffic on Route 201 onto Carter Memorial Drive and adjustments will be made to signal timing along the westbound detour as needed to accommodate changed traffic patterns along this route, minimizing travel time for those using the detour.

A traffic signal pre-emption system will also be set up to allow emergency responders to safely travel against the flow of traffic from Winslow to Waterville when needed, assuring the reliability of first responders and emergency services while also allowing some level of regular traffic flow between Waterville and Winslow. The planned construction and traffic management approach addresses the desire for a streamlined construction approach, while balancing the need to maintain traffic and provide expedient emergency responsiveness when required.

Beyond the traditional demands of a multi-million-dollar endeavor of this kind, additional factors are inherent in this project making it particularly challenging and difficult. The design and construction must be undertaken in ways that are responsive to these challenges while continuing to minimize project impacts to the extent practical.

For instance, the riverbanks are steep and water levels vary widely throughout the year creating a complex set of factors to be dealt with during construction. Although the Kennebec River is not a commercial waterway, it is a critical habitat for Atlantic salmon and Shortnose sturgeon populations during spawning season, therefore, contractor work will be restricted so that no work will be done in the waterway during the late spring and summer months. Finally, because there are numerous electricity, cable, telephone, and water utilities located along the bridge, special measures will be taken to relocate these facilities in a manner that maintains operability at all times during construction.

When completed, the new bridge will introduce streetscape features to promote walking and bicycling and improve the attractiveness and quality of life downtown. The new bridge will feature 5-foot shoulders to accommodate bicycles, as well as 6-foot sidewalks for pedestrians. It will have modern bridge rails that are safer and meet crashworthy standards, will include architectural lighting, and will feature corrosion resistant construction materials that will stand the test of time. The new Ticonic Bridge represents a move forward for the continued vitality of Waterville and Winslow, and the surrounding communities.