Traffic meets traffic going in both directions on to the southern Margaret Chase Smith bridge in Skowhegan at mid-afternoon Feb. 27, 2019, when schools and some area businesses close for the day or change shifts. A Thursday meeting will provide an update on a possible second bridge. Morning Sentinel file photo

SKOWHEGAN — After a hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the town and the Maine Department of Transportation will present an update on a study looking at building a second bridge in Skowhegan.

On Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m., the joint planning study team will present what they have found to date and alternatives for moving forward. The team will also field questions and receive input from the public. The meeting was originally scheduled for February with a final report due in May, but the process was disrupted by the pandemic.

The town hosted a meeting in September 2019 where public input was gathered on how to address downtown traffic, the possibility of a second bridge and where to locate it. Since then, the study team has been evaluating current conditions, future alternatives and public feedback.

Thursday’s meeting will be held on the Zoom platform. Information on how to join the call can be found on the town’s website. Those who do not wish to join the Zoom meeting can watch it live on the town’s Facebook page and Somerset Community TV 11‘s Facebook page. Recordings will be posted on the town’s website. Additional comments will be accepted for up to two weeks after the meeting.

Discussions concerning a potential new bridge began anew in October 2018 when the Board of Selectmen met with the state transportation commissioner to find ways to improve transportation in the Skowhegan area.

From 1997-2006, a previous committee had explored ways to divert truck traffic away from downtown and Madison Avenue to create space to draw more people downtown. The effort was not successful as disputes about a bypass could not be solved, and the community did not support the plan.

As of September 2019, 23,000 vehicles a day were using the bridge, with 1,000 of them tractor-trailer trucks traveling at slow speeds and making wide turns that slow down traffic. In comparison, the Casco Bay Bridge that connects Portland and South Portland handles 30,000 vehicles each day.

The main concern about new bridge construction centers on location, with some believing that if a new bridge were to be constructed, a new problem would arise. Community members have encouraged surveyors to consider the impact that a new bridge would have on local roads as this would increase traffic in different areas.

When results were presented to the community in September, organizers asked the community what they viewed as advantages to having a new bridge, concerns that may come with a new bridge and ideas for solutions to any concerns.

At the input meeting in September, a large majority of the crowd agreed that a new bridge was necessary.

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