RICHMOND — Despite its recent prominent designation as one of just four projects nationwide to have its federal permitting process fast-tracked through an initiative announced by President Barack Obama, a new Richmond-Dresden bridge is not expected to start any sooner than was already planned.

State Department of Transportation officials hope a higher profile for the project under the Obama administration’s new We Can’t Wait initiative will help it get its federal permits on time or even a little early.

But, contrary to the administration suggestion on Monday that several months or up to a year will be shaved from the project, state officials do not anticipate the federal action will speed up either the start or completion dates for a new bridge.

“The bottom line is this announcement doesn’t change anything in the current timelines for construction,” Ted Talbot, spokesman for the state transportation department, said Thursday. “What we hope this listing does is, by giving this project a much higher profile, it helps to speed the permitting process.”

Construction is scheduled to start in spring 2013, with completion of the bridge projected for November 2015.

Those dates aren’t new. They were projected well before Monday’s announcement that the project would be fast-tracked.

“We had an aggressive schedule for the project to begin with,” said Nate Benoit, project manager for the state transportation department. “We want to give the contractor as much of the 2013 construction season as possible. We do need to get federal permits. With this new (initiative), I think what is happening is everyone we need permits from, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, they know what the schedule is for this project, and they’ll deliver their permits on time.”

Federal Department of Transportation officials did not have a specific answer to the contradiction between the federal initiative announcment and the state’s timeline.

They said the initiative has resulted in the development of a project schedule agreed upon by the federal agencies involved in the permitting process and it generally results in reductions in time and cost. Such coordination, they say, helps resolve issues early to avoid potential problems.

The initiative also allows reviews that previously would have occurred one after the other to take place at the same time. Fast-tracked projects will still be required to meet requirements of the environmental review process.

A statement issued by the White House Monday said the four projects selected as the first to receive We Can’t Wait designation would be expedited to put Americans to work and replace critical aging transportation infrastructure. The release said coordination among federal agencies involved in the permitting processes would “save between several months to more than a year on these projects.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the news release the administration “is committed to doing its part to help communities across the country move forward with these critical projects as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The state transportation department hopes crucial permits will come in on time. Members of Maine’s legislative delegation said a more streamlined federal permitting process certainly can’t hurt the project’s chances.

“In the end, MDOT doesn’t need permitting to be expedited, but I’m glad it offers the state reassurance that it will be finished as soon as possible,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said Thursday, after learning that state transportation officials don’t expect the construction schedule to change. “The fact that the Kennebec bridge was chosen for this initiative reaffirms that the state is doing a good job advocating for the importance of its transportation infrastructure.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, visited the rusty, deteriorating 80-year-old bridge last year, and announced at the site she will work to help secure federal funding to offset its replacement cost.

Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said anything the federal government can do to ensure the project moves forward in a timely manner will create jobs and help save the state money in the long run.

“As someone who has fought to cut the tangle of red tape that is holding businesses back from expanding and adding jobs, Senator Collins is hopeful that this new designation will help expedite the project and encourage better coordination among the federal agencies involved in the bridge replacement project,” Kelley said in an email.

Federal permitting progress on the project will be tracked and viewable at a public federal dashboard, at permits.performance.gov/projects/16071/details.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

 

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