AUGUSTA — New temporary ramps on Interstate 95 at Exit 109A in Augusta caused minor delays during Wednesday’s pre-Thanksgiving traffic rush, but officials say they hope the ramps help people get where they are going faster as they work to repair a bridge superstructure damaged earlier this year.

Southbound travel through the construction site could be down to one lane each day until the project’s completion, estimated for February 2018, according to Devin Anderson, project manager for the state Department of Transportation.

However, both of the two southbound lanes were expected to be open Friday to try to prevent delays during high-traffic Thanksgiving travel. And two lanes will remain open, throughout the project, during the busiest morning and evening commuting hours.

The contractor on the job will only be allowed to restrict traffic to one lane on I-95 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Officials still anticipate there will be traffic delays, despite the plan to not allow lane closures during morning and evening rush hours on Black Friday.

“We understand the holidays are a hard time to have lane shifts,” said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the state transportation department. “We regret the inconvenience; there will be backups. But we’re operating under, really, emergency circumstances.”

Talbot encouraged drivers to find alternate routes to get to their destinations, if possible.

The bridge superstructure is being replaced because it was damaged when it was apparently struck by something large, such as an over-height trailer or vehicle, sometime between Sept. 1 and Oct. 3. The damaged bridge served the 109A exit and entrance.

DOT officials said whatever hit the bridge damaged both the north and south exterior beams supporting the elevated roadway. They plan to replace the damaged superstructure of the bridge, which was built in 1959, with a new one, with a clearance that is about a foot higher than the current, 14-foot, 3-inch clearance.

The damage to the south exterior beam was discovered Oct. 3 by a maintenance worker.

Bill Doukas, senior structural engineer in the DOT’s Bridge Maintenance Division, said a strike resulted in a crack that stretches more than halfway across the bottom flange of the rolled steel I-beam and into the middle part of the beam.

The project is expected to cost about $3 million.

State officials are trying to find out who and what hit the bridge, to try to recoup some of the cost of replacing the bridge structure — funds which will otherwise come from transportation project funding.

Talbot said they have had no luck, so far, finding out who or what hit the bridge. Anyone who may have information about it should call the DOT’s legal department at 624-3020.

“This is not only a big hit to the superstructure of the bridge, it’s also a big hit to the highway fund,” Talbot said.

All traffic looking to get onto I-95 to go south from that part of Augusta must access it from a new entrance on Whitten Road. Signs direct traffic from Western Avenue to the new access point.

There is no access to the southbound lanes at the former, regular point of access, which is blocked by “road closed” signs and a barrier. Anderson said if people miss the signs and travel to that temporarily closed access point trying to go south, they’ll have to go northbound to the Civic Center Drive exit, get off and then get back on the Interstate, southbound.

“It’s very well-signed; I’m anticipating people are going to be able to figure it out,” Anderson said.

Motorists traveling southbound on the Interstate in the area and looking to go into Augusta east on Western Avenue will also use the Whitten Road temporary access, which is at the same point off the Interstate as the regular 109A exit. Southbound Interstate 95 traffic leaving it and going to the west, toward Manchester and Winthrop, may continue to use the Exit 109B offramp.

Northbound traffic coming off the Interstate at 109 shouldn’t be impacted by the work.

The state Department of Transportation is posting updates on the project on its website.

There was a multiple-car accident in the southbound lanes of the Interstate at about 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, between mile markers 110 and 111, north of the construction site. Information on whether that accident was related to the construction project was not immediately available.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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