Newcastle — I’ve recently been ruminating on the utility of bridges. Part of my motivation is a proclamation in the current Economist that we spend approximately half the percentage of our GDP on infrastructure as compared to Europe. Almost fifty percent of our bridges, mostly built in the post WW II construction boom, are in need of repair, and there is no money set aside to accomplish this. All funds are sucked dry by pensions (including public assistance) and health care. We are in desperate shape. A second motivation is the recent news that San Francisco bureaucrats have voted to spend $73 million on prevention nets to thwart suicide leaps from the Golden Gate Bridge. Why? But more on that later.
A few bridges involve me locally. There’s the swing bridge in South Bristol, to be replaced, eventually, with an unsightly Bascule drawbridge. The planning and complaining have been going on for about a decade. Bid-opening for construction reveals a Rockland firm to be low bidder at around $10.9 M. That’s nearly forty percent more than anticipated (fairly typical of today’s budget forecasting skills). The state hasn’t this money, the federal government is reluctant to print it; but plans move resolutely, if slowly forward. I would favor simply removing the old bridge and leaving things at that. Yes, that would be an inconvenience for some on Rutherford Island, but a lot of them are “from away” and don’t count. No bridge would make things easier for both commercial and recreational boaters, and there would be no more traffic backup on Rt. 129.
I shall suggest a plan for compensating for the no-bridge inconvenience. There is currently boat service between Rutherford and Inner Heron Island. I propose this be expanded to a regular ferry service, and extended to the mainland in East Boothbay. Rutherford folk could leave their cars in East Boothbay and have comparable access to Damariscotta for shopping and a new option to Boothbay which is closer. The ferry could be promoted as a tourist attraction. Seems like a good idea to me.
Other points in favor of abandoning the South Bristol bridge: The rise in ocean level, which is occurring, will in the not-too-distant future submerge the bridge, at least at high tide. Rutherfordians would be spared the bone-jarring travel on Rt. 129. South Bristol could return to a sleepy, scenic fishing town.
The bridge connecting Damariscotta and Newcastle is quite close to where I live. Traffic noise is extremely irritating to me, particularly the rhythmic “thwacking” of tires on the poorly maintained expansion joints. More importantly, however, the bridge detracts significantly from the ambiance of both towns by virtue of the diurnal flow of large, heavy vehicles along the narrow commercial Rt. 1, the vast majority of which are merely passing through. I would favor restriction to foot-bike traffic only, except for emergency vehicles and the Concord bus. This would be a huge improvement to our downtowns, and also save wear and tear on the bridge. Or we might revert to days of yore and re-establish a toll on the bridge, at least for those transient behemoths; maybe $50 for gravel trucks and $100 for eighteen-wheelers.
Another bridge of some concern to me (and others) is the one spanning the Sheepscot at Wiscasset. Here I would again recommend removal and replacement with a ferry service. This would be a final solution to the century-old arguments over a Wiscasset bypass. Vehicular traffic could be accommodated farther inland. It would slow things down a bit, but that’s only good. Everyone’s in too much of a hurry. Wiscasset would be a nicer town; might even live up to that preposterous claim of “The Prettiest Little Village in Maine.”
Moving away from the local, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, opened in 1937, has long been a favored hopping-off spot for those discouraged by their dreary lives. Last year set a record with 46 fatal plunges. As mentioned above, Bay Area bureaucrats, themselves jumping, but in their case onto the bandwagon of cradle-to-grave security, wish to spend what rounds out to about $47,000 per for the estimated 1,600 who have successfully completed the jump. What a waste. Why do we care? 1,600 is a miniscule number, and there’s no mess or fuss resulting from the suicides. The ocean currents are swift, the fish are hungry. I only hope the nets don’t spoil the esthetics of this marvelous landmark.
All in all I feel that bridges make things too easy for too many people. Get a lot of people together, and they start arguing, fighting, and killing each other. Too many people; always a problem. How about a new, catchy, bridge slogan: “Remove it and they will go.”