NORRIDGEWOCK — After 10 years of planning, three years of construction and about $22 million, the first cars and trucks drove across the newest bridge spanning the Kennebec River on Thursday.

About 150 residents, officials, children and dogs gathered on the bridge beneath the cement arches for speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. For years people heard talk about the bridge and watched the arches rise.

On Thursday, they drove under them. They will continue to do so for likely the next 100 years, said Jack Parker, chief executive officer for Reed & Reed, the company that built the bridge carrying Route 201A and Route 8 across the river.

It is a “magnificent structure,” Parker said, “that will last longer than any of us.”

In front of him, people snapped photographs and videotaped the event. They later celebrated with a barbecue and took home souvenir pieces of concrete from the old bridge.

The first vehicle to drive across was a 1928 Ford Model A from Hight Chevrolet in Skowhegan, which paid homage to the year the former bridge opened. A 2011 Chevy Camaro convertible followed close behind.

Rebecca Malek Niederfringer grew up in a home next to the bridge and said the former bridge, recognized for its four arches, would rattle, and tall trucks used to strike the top. Sitting on the sidewalk of the new bridge, she said she could barely feel movement from trucks traveling about eight feet away.

“It’s really exciting. It’s really pretty,” she said, sitting with her son, Zachary, 4, and her mother, Janice Malek. “It feels really safe.”

The new bridge is the second of its design in the country and, with a 25-foot clearance, is about twice as tall as the former bridge. It is more than twice as wide at 48 feet.

It has two 12-foot travel lanes, four- to six-foot shoulders, a five-foot sidewalk and a seven-foot multi-use lane intended for bicyclists, ATVs and snowmobiles, according to Mark Latti, public information officer for the Maine Department of Transportation.

The design is based on previous bridges at the site, but with modern efficiency, said Earle Shettleworth Jr., state historian and director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

He said his organization agreed with the state transportation department, the Federal Highway Administration, the town and its residents “that it was such a significant bridge crossing in the history of the community and the history of the state, that it was important to continue to have a bridge that represents that story.”

It is the eighth bridge at that site in the last 200 years to be used for general public transportation, he said. In addition, there is a railroad bridge nearby that has stood since 1872. During Thursday’s ceremony, a train passed over it, blowing its whistle and drowning out a speaker, to laughter from the crowd.

Before the 1928 bridge, there was a covered one made of wood that rested on stone piers. It was used for 58 years, according to the state.

Francis Fenton, 96, of Mercer, is one of a handful of people in the area who have crossed the last three bridges.

The covered bridge was in bad shape, he said, recalling how the wooden boards shook when people traveled over them.

Fenton remembers the four-arch bridge being built. Workers used wheelbarrows to carry the concrete, he said.

“These people know how to build a bridge,” he said Thursday, standing next to a group of construction workers in yellow vests and hard hats. “This is the prettiest bridge in the state of Maine.”

It’s also an important one in terms of infrastructure, said transportation department Commissioner David Bernhardt. More than 9,000 vehicles a day use the crossing; 8 percent are heavy trucks.

The bridge was built to withstand much use — nearly 1 million pounds of reinforcing steel and 24 million pounds of concrete are in it. It was paid for with 80 percent federal and 20 percent state money.

Lucille Greer, who lives next to the bridge, joined Shettleworth and Parker in cutting the ribbon. The toll booth for the covered bridge used to be on her front lawn, she told the crowd.

For the last couple years, a big red construction crane has sat there instead. But that, too, like many things, is now gone.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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