The new bridge, left, that will replace the old Bridge Street bridge, right, is seen Tuesday in downtown Gardiner. The A1 Diner can be seen at other end of bridge. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

GARDINER — After years of planning, the project to replace the second of two bridges over Cobbosseecontee Stream is about to get interesting.

Earlier this fall, contractors poured concrete to make a bridge deck that now sits next to the existing Bridge Street bridge. Starting Thursday, demolition starts on the Bridge Street bridge to make way for the new structure weighing more than 700 tons that is expected to expected to be slid into place during the first week in November.

When that happens, Aaron Harris will have a front row view. Harris owns the A1 Diner, which sits on steel pilings immediately adjacent to Bridge Street, and the bridge deck is sitting right outside the windows of his historic Worcester lunch car diner.

“It’s almost like it’s another room in our business,” Harris said Tuesday, as he was getting ready to close down for about 30 days while the bridge replacement project moves into its next phase. “The guys walking on it are 15-feet away from our windows.”

When Harris bought the diner from Mike Giberson and Neil Andersen 23 months ago, he knew he would have to close for about a month for this part of the project. While he had a plan for the down time — renovating the kitchen — it, like other plans made for 2020, has undergone significant revision.

“I was excited to be revamping the cooking line,” he said. “But I won’t be able to do it.”

When the global coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, business as usual for the A1 Diner and hundreds of restaurants across the state was upended, first by mandated closures, then by restrictions on indoor dining. Harris pivoted to a take-out business even as state officials announced that would be allowed.

He put in place protective measures, upgrading sanitizers to disinfectants, installing Plexiglas barriers, and wearing masks when indoor dining was allowed again. That added unanticipated costs at a time when the business was operating at about 60% of normal, sometimes less, so the revenue he expected from the summer season never materialized, even with outside seating.

Harris said he agrees with and supports the standards, and he’s been lucky in the support he’s received from customers, including gift cards purchases and tips that made a difference in his daily cash flows.

So rather than a renovation, Harris plans to spend the down time reorganizing and cleaning the space, and taking on small chores and repairs, taking on odd jobs to supplement his income and spending time with his family — and keeping an eye on the engineering marvel that will play out just feet from his business.

This panoramic photo taken Tuesday from behind the counter inside the A1 Diner shows the old Bridge Street bridge, left, that will be demolished and replaced by the new bridge being built beside it in downtown Gardiner. The new bridge will be moved over after old bridge is demolished. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“This is the final piece of the work we’ve been doing in downtown Gardiner,” said Paul Merrill, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation.

The $12.6 million bridge replacement project got underway in March 2019. Under the plan, the Maine Avenue bridge was replaced first, with work starting about a year ago. The bridge was first built in 1925, then widened eight years later. In replacing that bridge, contractors Reed & Reed built a smaller bridge spanning the stream for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In addition to replacing both the Maine Avenue and Bridge Street bridges, the project also includes improvements to two Water Street intersections — where Bridge Street turns into Brunswick Avenue and where Maine Avenue turns into Church Street — and the addition of a multi-use bridge next to the Maine Avenue bridge that carries the East Coast Greenway Trail across the stream.

The Bridge Street bridge, built in 1917, is on U.S. Route 201 and is a heavily traveled route on the west side of the Kennebec River, connecting Brunswick with Augusta and points north. Traffic will be detoured onto Summer and Winter streets for the duration of this phase.

During demolition, crews from contractor Reed & Reed will work around the clock to remove the existing bridge, Merrill said. Once that’s done, they will work 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., to set the new bridge in place and hook up utilities. Following that, work on paving, curbs and sidewalks will be done.

“Our plan is to have the new bridge open in the second part of November,” Merrill said, depending on weather.

Reed & Reed crews are expected to return in the spring to finish intersection and work on pedestrian trails.

“Our civic duty is right in our face now,” Harris said, noting that no business is being affected more than his by the bridge construction, and when it’s done no business will benefit more.

Harris said he’ll be given notice in advance of the bridge’s opening date, which may be sooner than expected depending on how the work progresses. For now, he’s targeting the week of Thanksgiving for his reopening, and said he’ll be providing updates on Facebook.

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