Officials restrict international bridge traffic to passenger vehicles only
MADAWASKA, Maine — Inspectors have uncovered more steel deterioration than anticipated on the aging international bridge between Madawaska and Edmundston, New Brunswick, forcing Maine and New Brunswick transportation officials to place weight limits that beginning at 4 p.m. Friday will prevent most commercial vehicles from crossing at that location.
“During a recent inspection of the bridge, inspectors found significantly more steel deterioration on the floor beams and stringers than expected,” according to a press release issued Thursday by Maine Department of Transportation spokesperson Ted Talbot.”
As a result, officials on both sides of the St. John River have agreed to set the weight limit on the bridge at five tons, down from the current 50-ton limit.
“The new weight limit ensures that the bridge remains safe for passenger vehicles but restricts all commercial vehicles over five tons, including tractor trailers, box trucks, buses and fire trucks,” Talbot said in the release.
That means such commercial traffic will have to seek an alternate route, likely a lengthy detour, through one of the closest border crossings in either Fort Kent, 20 miles away, or Van Buren, 25 miles away.
Talbot said the average traffic, based on annual totals, is about 2,500 vehicles daily, including about 95 trucks per day.
The MDOT and New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure are working on a plan to complete temporary repairs as soon as possible, according to Talbot.
Once those repairs are done, engineers will re-evaluate the situation.
“However, weight restrictions of some magnitude will remain in effect until a replacement bridge is complete,” Talbot said in the statement. Officials are still evaluating what temporary repairs to make, when they will start and how long they will take, he said later in an email.
The bridge was built in 1921 and is nearing the end of its useful life, according to the Maine DOT. The average age of the bridges the agency wants to replace is approximately 70 years.
Representatives from agencies on both sides of the border have been discussing options for either replacing or repairing the structure within the next few years, but those plans are still in the development phase.
MDOT representatives notified officials in Madawaska and Edmundston of the pending changes on Wednesday, according to a public notice on the Town of Madawaska’s Facebook page.
Madawaska Fire Chief James Soucy said Thursday that he is concerned about the impact the weight limit will have on the assistance the departments from Madawaska and Edmundston currently provide each other.
Any fire truck or tanker the Edmundston department normally would send across in a mutual aid situation would be too heavy and unable to cross the border under the weight restriction. The same goes for Madawaska firefighters assisting in Edmundston.
“That would really give me a problem,” Soucy said.
The chief said only the Madawaska department’s pick-up truck is under five tons.
Soucy said he was looking into whether any exceptions could be made in an emergency, although he was unsure if that will be allowed.
Aroostook County Emergency Management Director and North Lakes Fire Chief Darren Woods said that such exceptions are unlikely, as it would make little sense to send a rescue vehicle across an unsafe bridge.
Soucy said he is especially concerned having the paper mill right in town. With the Edmundston Fire Department, only minutes away, unable to respond if needed, Madawaska would have to rely on assistance from the next closest and smaller fire departments in Frenchville, Grand Isle and St. Agatha.
Those communities are between eight and ten miles from downtown Madawaska, while the Edmundston Fire Department is about a mile away.
“It’s crazy,” Soucy sad. “To all of a sudden get this notice.”