The Maine Department of Transportation will close the Bath viaduct Wednesday night to perform work on the aging roadway’s guardrail, Bath police have said.

The work will close the viaduct from 8 p.m. until midnight.

Word of the repairs comes less than a month after a woman’s SUV crashed through the aging aluminum bridge railing and plunged 40 feet to the roadway below. And it comes less than a week after the Portland Press Herald reported that dozens of guardrail bolts were broken, missing or damaged, and that state officials were warned about the condition of the guardrail in at least one prior inspection of the span, but failed to make any repairs.

Maine DOT spokesman Ted Talbot could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and has not returned calls from the Press Herald about the viaduct since April 22.

Messages for comment from DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt and Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Nass were not immediately returned.

The Bath viaduct was constructed in 1958, long before the federal government required roadside safety equipment to be crash tested, and is set to be replaced beginning this year at a cost of $15 million. It carries about 18,000 vehicles per day.

Scrutiny of the roadway was prompted by the crash of Melissa Medina, 37, of Windham, who lost control of her 2003 Mercury Mountaineer in icy conditions April 4. A reconstruction of the accident by Bath police found that when Medina’s SUV fishtailed she crossed the center line into oncoming traffic, over-corrected and struck the bridge railing nearly head-on, flipping upside down and falling over the side.

The bed of a passing Ford F-150 pickup truck absorbed the impact of the falling SUV, likely saving the lives of Medina and her 12-year-old son, who was riding in the front seat.

About 50 feet of the bridge railing was destroyed in the accident, and state road crews quickly repaired it the next night.

After the investigation by the Portland Press Herald that found missing or broken nuts and bolts, the state ordered an emergency re-inspection of the viaduct’s guardrail system and 30 other bridges with similar aluminum railings. The state also suggested for the first time that it will consider retrofitting bridges with the outdated bridge rail design to more modern designs that meet current crash testing standards.

The state’s own detailed inspection of the bridge rail found similar results: 39 bolts were missing or broken; 36 nuts were missing from their bolts; 24 railing posts were damaged, and three segments of damaged horizontal railing.

Initially after the accident, Maine DOT also said that road crews had salted the roadway a short time before Medina’s crash, but the Bath investigation found that the roadway was unsalted.

The state agency never clarified or explained the discrepancy. Instead, Talbot offered a statement critical of the newspaper’s reporting.

“Due to the multiple inaccuracies included in the Bath viaduct story and despite repeated efforts to ensure the reporter was able to comprehend the material given to him, combined with an apparent conflict of interest with a Portland Press Herald advertiser, Maine DOT will no longer be participating in gathering information on this subject,” Talbot said in the April 22 statement. “Maine DOT will continue to provide a safe and reliable transportation system, staffed by highly qualified and dedicated professionals.”

Talbot did not identify the alleged inaccuracies, what material was misunderstood or what the conflict of interest was, and has not returned any Press Herald requests for information about the viaduct or related issues, including a query Tuesday for information about car crashes caused by an unseasonable snow storm, since April 22.

Reached Wednesday, Assistant Bridge Maintenance Engineer Ben Foster confirmed that work would be performed, but declined to discuss what would be repaired or why the work was ordered.

“You’ll have to contact (Talbot),” Foster said. Asked whether he was the one who signed off on the order to perform the maintenance, Foster hesitated.

“The department ordered work,” he said. “You need to talk to Ted Talbot.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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