Collins, DOT tout $10 million bridge construction grant

MILO - A sizable grant will soon bring much needed bridge construction to Penobscot and Piscatiquis counties.

It's not a flashy topic, but degrading roads and bridges are growing problems across Maine, and the United States. Thanks to a nationwide grant, nearly $11 million, matched by state funds, are planned to help replace three key bridges in the area.

"It's so important," Senator Susan Collins said, as she donned a hard hat in Milo. "Each of these three bridges in Piscatiquis and Penobscot counties are considered to either be structurally deficient or functionally obsolete."

According to the DOT commissioner, Senator Collins was key in securing the grant and, Thursday, she toured the Pleasant River Bridge in Milo - its 89 years of service far outlasting its target life of 75 years.

The safety issue is obvious, but the reason these rural bridges mean so much is that they're often the only passage for miles around. DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt says the other two bridges targeted in the grant would put drivers nearly 100 miles out of their way if they went down. In Maine's forests, miles mean dollars.

"The forest industry, when it comes to transportation, it's probably 30% of the cost of doing business," Bernhardt said. "Anything we can do to help them out and get the bridges in shape is really good for the economy. It's really good for the state."