WHITEFIELD — The Maine Department of Transportation indefinitely closed the single-lane Northy Bridge on Howe Road in Whitefield earlier this month after an August inspection and subsequent walk-through showed continued deterioration and an increase in damage to some of the beams.

Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said after bridges are given an annual inspection, committees determine whether the bridge needs to be rehabilitated, replaced, posted with a lower weight limit or closed. The Northy Bridge’s weight limit had been reduced to 15 tons in July 2014.

“(With this bridge), deterioration was such that the committee had a meeting within a few days of the inspection,” he said. “The recommendation was to close the bridge, but (the committee) decided it did not need to be closed immediately.”

According to the state, the nearly 80-year-old bridge, which crosses the Sheepscot River, saw an average of 312 vehicles cross it daily, though a number of those are the same vehicle making a round trip. He said the closure results in a four-mile abutment to abutment detour and a half-mile bypass detour, adding about five minutes to a driver’s trip. The bridge is now blocked on both ends by large cement barriers with signs explaining the closure.

Aaron Miller, Whitefield’s town clerk, said the town was told by the state on Nov. 30 that the bridge would close Dec. 4. He called the state the following day to say that alerting the town only a few days before the closure was alarming. Local fire and rescue canvassed the neighborhood to let residents know of the change.

“There has been very little communication between the DOT and the town,” Miller said.

The town’s selectmen are hoping to meet with state engineers to talk about the specific reasons for the bridge closure and to discuss options for the bridge going forward.

Talbot offered that the state would be happy to have a meeting with concerned Whitefield residents. Another bridge in town, the Cooper’s Mills bridge on Main Street, is also on the state’s radar, but according to Talbot, there has not been any discussion about closing the bridge.

In November, Mainers approved an $85 million bond for transportation projects, including $65 million to be used to build, reconstruct and rehabilitate highways and bridges around the state. Talbot said the Northy Bridge would cost about $1.3 million to replace, a number longtime Whitefield resident Norm West said “is a bunch of baloney.”

Jerry Brann, who has lived on the south side of Howe Road for about 30 years, said he was upset when he heard the bridge was closing “a few weeks after voting on the transportation bond.”

“I voted for this bond,” Brann said. “You see this on the ballot, the money for the bridges, so of course I’m going to vote for it. Then they closed my bridge down.”

West and Brann agreed that the bridge has issues and needs work, but neither one said they ever felt scared or nervous going across the bridge, which is about 60 feet long. West has lived in the area about 40 years and said there is no reason the bridge should close permanently, and Brann concurred.

“I walked across this thing this morning and didn’t feel like I was going to fall in,” Brann said.

The state said Northy Bridge is the fourth bridge closed in Maine since 2011. The other bridges were located in Brunswick, Fryeburg and Lebanon. A report released in October by TRIP, a national transportation trade group, said Maine had made no significant progress toward replacing or repairing structurally deficient bridges in the last year. It recommended that Maine double the $70 million allocated for bridge repairs within the Maine Department of Transportation budget.

Some drivers that regularly use the bridge offered displeasure, Talbot said, because “anytime you bring somebody outside of their normal routine, it is understandable that there would be some angst.”

Cyndie Sproul has lived on Howe Road since 1990 and said in a Facebook post that the closure will cause a little inconvenience, but added it won’t bother her much because “we didn’t really do a lot on the other side of the bridge. I bet I can expect a lot less traffic now.”

Her daughter, Brittany, however, expressed sadness at the bridge’s closure. She said she and her brother grew up riding bikes over the bridge.

“I was saddened to hear the news of the closing of the bridge as it holds special childhood memories for me,” said Brittany Sproul, who now lives in Massachusetts.

For now, Whitefield residents are hoping for a different outcome than the one that was presented to the town by the state, one that includes either repairing or replacing the current structure.

“People use the bridge despite what the state says,” West said.

However, Talbot maintained the state’s position on the bridge’s future.

“Because there is a minimal traffic impact, there are no plans whatsoever to reopen the bridge,” he said.

The Northy Bridge detour includes Vigue Road and Routes 17/32 in Windsor and Whitefield.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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