The rusty old iron bridge connecting rural Skowhegan from Oak Pond Road to rural Canaan off Route 23 crosses Carrabassett Stream, just as it has since it was first riveted together in 1930.

On what is called Red Bridge Road, the 21-foot-wide bridge is just wide enough for two-way traffic, but the wooden decking of the bridge is patched and failing, vehicle weight is restricted to no more than 15 tons.

That means that a single-axle tanker firetruck weighing 9 tons and holding 1,800 gallons of water, which is about 7 tons, plus all the fire apparatus, can’t use the bridge anymore to fight fires on the other side — from both directions.

From Canaan, which is closest, firetrucks have to go out onto U.S. Route 2 and up Oak Pond Road to get to Red Bridge Road, a distance about 4 miles longer than using the bridge road, which cuts into valuable response time.

The town line runs right down the middle of the bridge. There are three homes on the Canaan side and 10 homes on the Skowhegan side.

The bridge is 2 miles from the Canaan fire station and about 10 miles from the Skowhegan fire station.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said the bridge will be closed for about a week beginning Oct. 19. The decking will be replaced, but the work will be “just a Band-Aid,” and a full repair job could cost $100,000 by the time all is said and done.

“The last letter we got from the DOT said it needs some work to the frame of the bridge itself. It’s rusting in places and some of the rivets have fallen out,” Dore said. “The embankments are scoured, the soil’s washed away underneath it, and they need to be reset with baskets of rocks.”

The wing walls that hold the soil around the ends of the bridge also are starting to separate, Dore added.

The planking on the bridge deck is the first job, he said, just to get regular cars and trucks safely to the other side. Red Bridge Road in both towns is unpaved.

The Maine Department of Transportation refers to the bridge as Hilton Bridge. Skowhegan and Canaan officials and residents call it Red Bridge because it has been painted red for as long as anyone can remember. Old iron bridges, such as the one on Pleasant Street in Clinton and the one next to Bee’s Snack Bar in Winslow, usually are painted green.

“We call it Red Bridge, but the state calls it the Hilton Bridge,” Canaan Road Commissioner Mike Robinson said. “They claim half of it’s ours and half of it’s Skowhegan’s. I wish it was all in Skowhegan so Greg could deal with it.”

Skowhegan selectmen agreed to set aside $1,200 from a highway account toward deck planking and materials. Canaan residents at their Town Meeting in March agreed to raise $30,000 for the work and work on another bridge on Moore’s Mills Road in that town.

“They asked why at Town Meeting, and we told them they needed to be fixed and there wasn’t a lot of discussion on it,” Robinson said.

Dore said the idea is to wait and see if more money is needed before he goes to Skowhegan taxpayers for more money.

When the bridge reopens after work is complete the week of Oct. 19, the weight limit will be up to the 15 tons for which it is marked, but it still won’t be safe for big firetrucks.

“We don’t know when it will be safe for firetrucks. We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Dore said. Robinson agreed, noting that a small truck could get across the bridge in an emergency, but not a big one.

Dore said there’s no timeline for getting the bridge safe enough to carry the heavier trucks.

“Right now we’re going back and forth with the state to get some preliminary design work done to bring that up to standards, because they’re strapped with time and employees,” Dore said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be able to get anything from them anytime soon.”

Dore said once the towns know what it’s going to take to get the bridge up to state standards, they can make the decision to just do the remedial work, just patch it or let it go until it can’t be patched any more. Once they know what it will take to bring it up to full standard, they will be able to determine whether it’s worth it, he said.

In the meantime, the 44-foot-long bridge will be fine for cars and small trucks to use — but no firetrucks.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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