Walkers and bicyclists traveling over the busy Casco Bay Bridge between Portland and South Portland will be forced to share the shoulder with cars over the next few weeks, as the protected sidewalk is temporarily closed for repairs.

The Maine Department of Transportation is asking pedestrians to make alternative plans while the DOT repairs the sidewalk on the drawbridge, which is used by both walkers and bicyclists. The construction is slated to begin Monday and finish on Aug. 10, with the sidewalk open to the public starting Aug. 11.

“It’s a tough project that needs to be done,” said Tim Soucie, a regional traffic engineer with the DOT. “It’s our hope that pedestrians find alternative means of transportation during this time.”

Soucie said the 250-foot lift-span section of the sidewalk will be sand blasted, primed and painted — a job that can be done only in the summer, as the paint takes a while to cure.

“It’s important that this work get done,” Soucie said. “It will lengthen the life of the structure so we don’t have to do an extensive project down the road.”

A large neon sign, warning pedestrians and drivers of the temporary closure, stood at the Portland entrance of the bridge on Tuesday. The DOT also has placed signs at the entrances to the sidewalk suggesting people take the bus, or alternative transportation.

Jake Boston, a South Portland resident who works at a call center on Commercial Street, walks across the bridge twice a day to get to work. He said that while he can take the bus to work, by the time he gets out around 1 a.m., the buses have stopped running and taxis are too expensive.

“I’m probably going to be carefully walking on the pavement when I’m going home at night,” Boston, 26, said while walking over the bridge on Tuesday afternoon. “But that’s a bridge I’ll have a cross when I get there.”

During the weekday commuter times of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., 54 bicycles and 37 pedestrian crossed the bridge on Thursday, May 15, according to a count conducted by the Portland Area Transportation System.

The system, a federally funded metropolitan planning organization that serves the Portland area, counts the number of pedestrians who use the bridge from the ramp at Thomas Knight Park in South Portland twice a year. Paul Niehoff, senior transportation planner said the system also record weekend travelers, and found that 10 bicycles and six pedestrians crossed the bridge between noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 10.

“There is a concern from a number of people about what’s going to happen during construction,” Niehoff said.

Portland-area advocacy groups, including the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, are working to find a way to keep walkers and bicyclists informed and safe during the construction.

“(Riding the bus) is probably the safest way to cross the bridge,” said Brian Allenby, the communications director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. “But there may be folks who want to walk or cannot afford alternative transportation.”

Allenby suggested putting up a temporary barrier along the bicycle lane, such as an orange jersey barrier or even traffic cones.

“If maintenance needs to be made, it needs to be made,” Allenby said. “We hope to find a way for everyone to come across the bridge safely.”

Portland Trails, a nonprofit urban land trust and trail building organization, also is looking to work with the DOT to find an alternative to having pedestrians use the bicycle lanes during construction, said Jaime Parker, a trails manager with the group.

“The heavily used path is part of a network that a lot of pedestrians use,” Parker said, adding that some physical separation between the cars and pedestrians during construction would be a safer option.

However, Soucie said that the DOT has no plan to put up a temporary barrier.

The bicycle lane is marked off by a solid white line, but no barrier separates foot and bicycle traffic from motor vehicles on the bridge, where the posted speed limit is 40 mph.

According to Soucie, there have been 53 accidents on the bridge in the last three years. Of those accidents, only one involved a bicycle. The majority of accidents, Soucie said were minor rear-end collisions.

About 13,650 vehicles a day pass through the intersection of High and Spring streets, on the Portland side of the bridge, according to a 2013 survey.

Barbie Lutz, a 55-year-old South Portland resident who walks to work in Portland every day, said she isn’t worried.

“I’ll still walk and just be careful using the road,” she said.


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