The westbound lanes of the Ticonic Bridge are closed as work continues to replace the aging span. The bridge is shown Wednesday from the Winslow side of the structure. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Some business owners and leaders are raising alarms about the ongoing project to replace the Ticonic Bridge between Waterville and Winslow, saying that the planned multi-year disruption to traffic flow that began in earnest last week is already harming customer sales for some downtown shops.

The traffic patterns and detours in place this week appear to be a new normal, with state plans calling for the bridge’s partial closure to remain in place for up to three years.

Kimberly Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, wrote to Waterville city officials this week telling them she had received feedback from some downtown businesses that the closures were “killing business.”

“My concern is for the sustainability of my businesses that need traffic to survive and have had lots of challenges over the last three years,” Lindlof told the Morning Sentinel on Wednesday, noting that local businesses took workforce and sales hits from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Some are saying business has definitely diminished since last week and one said it’s been a ghost town.”

The Maine Department of Transportation is replacing the bridge, which spans the Kennebec River on U.S. Route 201, and Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. is doing the work on the $52.8 million project. The bridge was fully closed during daytime and nighttime hours last week, with detour signs directing traffic across the Carter Memorial Bridge on Route 137, leading to rush-hour backups there.

The bridge reopened Saturday to traffic leaving Waterville and heading east into Winslow, but remains closed for westbound traffic from Winslow into Waterville, with the Carter bridge detour still in effect.


Maine DOT spokesman Paul Merrill acknowledged Wednesday that traffic flow from Winslow into Waterville will be impacted over the next three years. But he said transportation officials will work to be mindful of downtown commerce and what can be done to collaborate with business owners to find solutions.

“We want to make things right,” he said.

DOT said in a July 25 news release that the work is being done “to allow the contractor to build the upstream half of the new bridge. Westbound vehicle traffic will continue to be detoured south to the Carter Memorial Bridge. Pedestrian traffic will continue to be detoured north to the Two Cent Bridge until the upstream half of the new bridge is complete, which is scheduled to be in April 2025.”

Lindlof said she’s been reaching out to city and state officials to see what more can be done to let people know downtown Waterville is still “open for business,” with some motorists saying they’re avoiding the area altogether because of the bridge work.

Kate McAleer, owner of Bixby Chocolate Café at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Kate McAleer, owner of the Bixby Chocolate Café located in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center downtown, is among those imploring officials to come together and brainstorm solutions. McAleer said her business’s sales went off a “cliff” on Monday of last week, when the full closure of the bridge took effect. The chocolate shop, which opened in December, has seen a 40% decrease in sales compared with July, she said.

“Sales that Monday were so low and there were hardly any people downtown; it felt like a dagger to the heart,” McAleer said. “I feel like there should be more signs saying that the downtown is still open for business. We’ve got to get out in front of it and tell people how you can get people to downtown Waterville.”


But not all businesses have noticed a decline in sales. Of a dozen downtown businesses polled by the Morning Sentinel on Wednesday, three reported seeing a significant impact since the daytime bridge closure while the others said there’s been little to no impact.

Malcolm Porter, co-owner of Incense & Peppermints – Candy & Gifts on Main Street downtown, said he has not noticed a decline for his business, whose customers tend to be a mixture of locals and tourists.

“I’ve seen zero impact — no difference,” Porter said. “I think my customer base is finding me, regardless of the bridge.”

Angel O’Keeffe, right, with her daughter, Alanna, stand outside Joe’s Smoke Shop and Happy Trails in downtown Waterville on Wednesday. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

Over at Joe’s Smoke Shop and Happy Trails, Angel O’Keeffe, wife of owner Jim O’Keeffe, said they have seen a 40-50% reduction in sales since last week, compared with the same time period last year.

The bridge work “has diverted traffic away from downtown,” she said. “People are saying they’re avoiding the downtown. It’s hurting our businesses. It’s making it hard to make payroll.”

O’Keeffe, along with her daughter Alanna, who was running the smoke shop cash register on Wednesday, also noted the bridge work comes on the heels of major monthslong construction on Main Street downtown that converted the road from one-way to two-way traffic. That change has further complicated parking along Main Street, they said, even as the bridge disruptions are diverting customer foot traffic away.


McAleer elevated her concerns to state transportation officials as well, noting that she has heard from people who are “avoiding downtown at all costs” because of the traffic pattern disruptions. She suggested social media campaigns and postings with maps showing how to get to downtown Waterville, as well as print, TV and radio advertising and more signage at detour locations letting people know downtown is open.

Travis Hamel, an area construction engineer with the transportation department’s bridge program, responded to McAleer via email, which was provided to the Morning Sentinel, that the agency would plan to help get the word out on its Facebook page and on portable message boards for motorists.

“I know MaineDOT wants to be part of our local communities and help support all of our commerce, and we will do what we reasonably can to minimize any adverse impacts that we have,” Hamel wrote.

Meanwhile, Cianbro on Wednesday released updated information that the Ticonic Bridge will be closed to all traffic from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 27, through Thursday, Aug. 31.

Kim Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, speaks at an awards dinner in 2020. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Lindlof, the chamber president, said she is scheduled to discuss the issue further with new Waterville City Manager Bryan Kaenrath. Kaenrath and Assistant City Manager William Post didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Lindlof pointed to additional efforts the chamber undertook during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help businesses, restaurants in particular, stay afloat amid lockdown measures that led to drastic cuts in sales and staff. Similar creative thinking is needed to help businesses survive a multi-year disruption to a key downtown traffic pattern, she said.


“This is a three-year project and we need to find a way to help businesses at a minimum ‘sustain,’” Lindlof said, “and ‘thrive’ would be better.”

Lindlof also wondered whether project officials could look at enabling one lane of traffic for both eastbound and westbound traffic across the bridge, instead of two lanes for just eastbound traffic.

The Ticonic Bridge over the Kennebec River remains closed to westbound traffic from Winslow on Wednesday, allowing only traffic to cross from Waterville into Winslow. State officials said this temporary closure, part of a $52.8 million bridge replacement project, will be in place for another three years. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

McAleer, with Bixby Chocolate Café, said she hoped to see a “joint initiative” involving business advocates, city officials and others to make sure the millions of dollars invested in downtown revitalization and reconstruction over the past several years doesn’t go to waste.

“The downtown has been through the ringer,” McAleer said. “We’ve had all this momentum building and we don’t want to deflate the balloon.”

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