NEW SHARON — A century-old bridge came crashing down just after 5 p.m. Thursday, three hours after an initial blast of explosives failed to collapse the structure into the Sandy River and an excavator had to finish the job.
But when the truss eventually fell into the water, it landed upright instead of on its side as the contractor had anticipated.
“It just collapsed perfectly,” said Project Manager Andy McPherson, of CPM Constructors. “It went straight down so we can actually use the bridge itself to get into the water.”
McPherson said the explosive charges initially did not knock the bridge down as planned because the company did not know about steel beams in the abutments, which were not listed in the bridge plans.
“It’s an old bridge and there just wasn’t a lot of information available about its construction,” he said.
In the coming week, the steel beams will be cut into pieces and removed from the river. The entire $346,000 project, funded by the state, is anticipated to continue into late March.
The Maine Department of Transportation told New Sharon selectmen in November that the bridge was in danger of collapsing, and the state would pay to remove it. The structure had significant cracks in the abutments, according to the transportation department.
If the town had rejected the department’s offer to demolish the bridge, which has been closed for two decades, and it had collapsed on its own, the town would have been responsible for cleanup costs and any damage downstream.
Town officials said that they didn’t publicize the demolition because they didn’t want a large crowd to gather at the blast site, but dozens of onlookers assembled to snap photos along the riverbank on the neighboring U.S. Route 2 bridge and from Main Street near the fire station.
The 2 p.m. explosion was met with anti-climactic silence as onlookers held up phones and cameras waiting for the bridge to fall. When that didn’t happen after several minutes, onlookers began asking fire and police crews what was going on and several people began cracking jokes about the demolition’s failure.
When the explosives did not work as planned, crews used an excavator and shears to cut through the steel support beams.
Among the onlookers were sisters Barbara Petrie, 72, and Judy Ellis, 63, who said they, along with seven other siblings, used to cross the bridge after school to get snacks from the store on the other side of the river.
New Sharon High School and the former general store have since closed, along with the post office and other businesses in that area of town.
“This was the town,” Ellis said, pointing to the buildings that have since been converted to homes or left vacant. “And that was the bridge to it.”
Ellis said that it was hard for many of the residents to see the bridge go, but said she understands why it had to be torn down.
“It’s because of money and safety issues. It’s sad but it was time,” she said.
“We knew it needed to be,” added Petrie.
Police and fire crews secured the area throughout the day, and sheriff’s deputies planned to watch the bridge throughout the night.
McPherson said if the bridge collapsed into the river on its own, it might have either hit the adjacent U.S. Route 2 bridge or fell into the river during high water, where it could do more damage. By demolishing the bridge in a controlled setting, the area could be secured and demolition crews could collapse the bridge in the opposite direction of the other bridge, he said.
The bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1916. It once connected the two sides of town, but hasn’t been used since the 1990s.
There have been previous efforts to fundraise and restore the iron truss, but they all fell short of funding goals. Any future restoration effort would have cost millions of dollars, selectmen said when they unanimously voted to let the state dismantle the bridge.
Three plates that were attached to the bridge, one intact and two in pieces, were removed before the blasts and displayed on a table in the Town Office.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]