SKOWHEGAN — A series of development projects in Skowhegan are complicating proposals for a second bridge across the Kennebec River that advocates say is needed to address long-standing concerns about traffic congestion.

Selectmen recently decided to table any action on bridge construction plans, saying the process shouldn’t be rushed and that several factors must be considered, including plans for a new school for School Administrative District 54, a Run of River whitewater park and for Bigelow Brewing’s expansion into downtown Skowhegan, as well as projects involving the Maine Department of Transportation.

“All of these projects are going to affect our traffic not just now but in the future,” Selectman Steve Govoni said at a meeting last week. “We’re trying to understand what (the town) is going to look like with all of these projects in place with existing infrastructure.”

Traffic crowds the roadway over the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge in downtown Skowhegan on Monday. The bridge handles about 25,000 vehicles a day. Town leaders are considering two options for a new bridge across the Kennebec River, with one being another span extending into downtown that would alleviate traffic congestion. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Govoni updated the board on a recommendation from the bridge committee that the town move forward with two options for a bridge, “with the caveat that we also move forward with a Village Partnership Initiative (through Maine DOT).”

The goal of the new initiative is to address a range of projects from small safety improvements to large-scale road rebuilding while meeting the goal of slowing traffic and making it easier to meet, shop and do business downtown without a car.

“With or without a new bridge, we need to look at the whole picture,” Govoni said.


Selectmen will resume discussions on the bridge project on Feb. 22.

A feasibility study wrapped up last fall and two options were presented that officials say would best address the needs of the town: one for a span extending into downtown and the second for a structure a mile outside of downtown.

The downtown option is projected to cost $55.3 million and would allow for improved roadway connections in the area.

The second option, for a bridge downstream, would be built near the Great Eddy and provide roadway connections between U.S. Route 201 and U.S. Route 2. It would be less expensive — coming in at about $25.5 million — and would have relatively low impact on abutters.

Some residents, however, want to maintain the right to not build a new bridge at all, believing the two options are not viable because of the impact they would have on existing structures in or near downtown.



The portion of the Kennebec River known as the Grand Eddy is shown Tuesday with downtown Skowhegan in the background. There are two options under consideration for a new bridge across the river, with one proposed near the Grand Eddy. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Some have argued that the downtown option would force the relocation of Veterans Memorial Park, while the downstream option would destroy historic views of Skowhegan.

Martin Rooney with Maine DOT told selectmen the agency must review myriad considerations before making any final determination.

“If the second bridge went forward, it would be one of — if not the largest — new piece of transportation infrastructure in the state,” he said.

“I know we’ve talked about a second bridge since the 1960s, if not before then. Some people say it’s needed tomorrow, some people say it’s not needed,” Rooney said. “From a Skowhegan standpoint, a Somerset County standpoint, and a state of Maine standpoint, how we move forward is significant and we should take our time.”

When asked whether the town can reserve the right to pull the project, Rooney did not directly respond but reminded selectmen that Maine DOT has obligations to the state and not just to the town.

“With that said, we started this study when we were invited by the town of Skowhegan,” Rooney said.

“If there’s any new substantive data, we can reconsider. If it’s ‘I don’t like this location,’ it’s not substantive information that we can take to agencies,” Rooney said. “It needs to be data-driven based on something that can change.”

Talk of adding a second bridge to alleviate traffic congestion through downtown on the existing Margaret Chase Smith Bridge has been ongoing for decades. That bridge now handles about 25,000 vehicles a day, which includes nearly 1,000 tractor-trailers that slow traffic. By comparison, the Casco Bay Bridge in Portland handles about 30,000 vehicles a day.

Recent efforts to build a second bridge began in 2019, after previous attempts failed because of disputes over a traffic bypass. As part of the agreement with state officials, the town is not considering a bypass.

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