To the editor:

There’s more to the story of the new Waldo-Hancock bridge than was reported in December’s Working Waterfront. This $85 million project has something in common with the new span over the Kennebec River at Bath.

And that “something” is the fact that neither bridge really needed to be built. The 1931 bridge over the Penobscot River at Bucksport is a beautiful, functional and repairable structure that, with proper maintenance, could serve the public’s transportation needs for generations to come. Engineers say the problem with the old bridge is that our state Department of Transportation officials wrapped the main suspension cables to protect them, but instead it corroded them. This goof left the entire bridge below safety standards, although in no danger of collapse.

The reality is that for an estimated $50 million, the entire cable suspension system could be replaced, probably buying us 100 years more use of this historic bridge. Is $35 million – the difference (so far) between fixing the old or building new – just throwaway money? This money comes from taxpayers. It could be spent on something sensible such as rail and bus service…

The irony of the Bath bridge is that its predecessor, the 1927 Carlton bridge, must be maintained right beside the new span. That’s because the old span carries the railroad. So now we have two bridges to maintain instead of one. Another irony is that instead of improving Kennebec River access for ships, the new bridge blocks taller vessels from heading upriver. The Carlton bridge can be raised. To “save money,” the new $47 million bridge is a fixed span.

The new bridge, which has been given the uninspired name of Down East Gateway, is a make-work project that should not be happening. This bridge and the better-named Sagadahoc Bridge at Bath reveal how misplaced are the priorities of our Department of Transportation and the Legislature that endorses these taxpayer-funded boondoggles…

New is not always best. Consider the beloved Brooklyn Bridge, built with Penobscot Bay granite more than 120 years ago, long before the advent of motorized cars and trucks. This intelligently designed suspension bridge remains in superb condition, carrying far more traffic than any Maine bridge ever will support…

The Brooklyn Bridge includes a wide promenade for pedestrians, a feature that is seldom considered in our car-crazy vision of transportation. Vision is where Maine comes up short. We need to get to work now on alternative transportation such as rail and bus lines powered by alternative fuels. The technology is here, but the commitment isn’t. Take walking. The “technology” for walking has been around a long time.

Maybe we’ve lost the knack.

Steve Cartwright