What’s over 4,000 feet long, is used 35,000 times per day and opened 25 years ago this month?
The Casco Bay Bridge, which crosses over the Fore River to link South Portland and Portland, opened Aug. 30, 1997.
The bridge replaced the Million Dollar Bridge, which opened to traffic in 1916, roughly a year before the United States joined World War I. The old bridge ran parallel to the new one from Portland straight to Ocean Road and Waterman Drive in South Portland. The Casco Bay Bridge veers west to connect with Broadway instead.
“The whole point of the (new) bridge was to get the heavy traffic that crosses between South Portland and Portland out of the Knightville area; to make it go around,” said Tex Hauser, South Portland’s planning director from 1990 to 2020. “It just wasn’t a very friendly place with all these cars going up Ocean Street right through the middle of the neighborhood.”
Construction of the Casco Bay Bridge began in February 1994, at the price of $130 million and 500,000-man hours of labor, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
At 4,748 feet long, the 25-year-old bridge is the longest in Maine and is the second-largest bridge in the state, with a deck area of 407,378 square feet. The Piscataqua River Bridge, connecting Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Kittery is 4,000 feet long and has a deck area of 418,000 square feet, according to the DOT.
While the impact on traffic was positive, there were concerns about how the new bridge would impact businesses in the Knightville neighborhood of South Portland.
“There was a fear the businesses would lose a lot of their customers because there was no longer all this heavy traffic going by them,” Hauser said.
South Portland rerouted some of the one-way roads in the neighborhood, created the roundabout that connects Ocean Street and Cottage Road, and made efforts to “liberalize the zoning in the area to make it more attractive for investment,” Hauser said.
“Businesspeople, for their part, came up with a concept of branding the area as ‘The Waterfront Market,’” he said. “There was hope that by doing this they’d make the area more attractive, a destination.”
The branding of the area was confusing to some, Hauser said, as visitors of South Portland would often ask where exactly the market was. Overall, however, it was a success.
“Basically, the whole thing worked,” Hauser said. “The longer bridge got the traffic out of the neighborhood, we were able to get a pedestrian ramp in, and the new zoning did seem to attract businesses.”
The bridge has opened 560 times per year over the past three years. It got stuck open three times in both 2019 and 2020, and another five times in 2021, according to the DOT.