The storm had been predicted, but despite the planning, no one could prepare for 8.5 inches of rain dumped over a course of several hours. According to the National Weather Service, that was the amount of rain that fell in the Sugarloaf region the night Tropical Storm Irene churned through Carrabassett Valley. The localized downpour filled up streams and rivers, and surged downhill.
The Sugarloaf Mountain area is a bowl, where water collects and funnels down through a relatively narrow area. At the mouth of that funnel were two bridges on Route 27: the Brackett Brook Bridge, a 24-foot precast arch structure built in 1999, and the North Branch Bridge, a 39-foot scour-critical bridge built in 1958.
The water in those two streams rose rapidly, and within a span of 15 minutes, one eyewitness said that the water went from well under the bridge to over the road. Within minutes of that, both bridges were washed out, effectively isolating the Sugarloaf/USA resort.
Route 27 is a vital economic corridor for the region, and it also links the communities of Stratton, Carrabassett Valley and Kingfield.
Recognizing the importance of this road to the community, the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) began working around the clock to restore traffic to Route 27, reconnect the Sugarloaf Resort to Route 27 and repair a dangerous washout in the S-curves south of the bridges.
Monday morning, a little over 12 hours after the bridges washed out, the MaineDOT began working with Sugarloaf to restore traffic to the popular resort. In the field, MaineDOT engineers met with Sugarloaf personnel to open up a series of private roads that would connect Route 27 with the Sugarloaf Access Road. By mid-morning, access to the resort from the south was restored.
That same day, just hours after the bridges washed out, MaineDOT began the process of getting authorization from Governor LePage to utilize an accelerated contracting process that would allow MaineDOT to have construction crews working on installing temporary bridges in hours. Due to storm damage throughout northern New England, the process was essential to secure these services before contractors might commit their services to another state.
MaineDOT had designed an expedited process, briefed the governor, and then started interviewing five pre-qualified construction companies. All five companies had worked with MaineDOT before, and all possessed the engineering capability, equipment, and components to perform the necessary work.
Tuesday, while a team of MaineDOT personnel were interviewing contractors, MaineDOT maintenance personnel were repairing Route 27 in order to get heavy equipment to the bridge sites. MaineDOT also secured a 100-foot long aluminum pedestrian bridge that was installed over the Carrabassett River.
This pedestrian bridge gave people who lived north of Sugarloaf access to the resort instead of taking a 66-mile detour. It also provided relief to the local school district, as students could utilize the bridge to get to school instead of spending an hour-and-a-half on the bus due to the detour.
On Wednesday, after a few remaining details were worked out, Reed & Reed, Inc., of Woolwich, began work to remove the washed-out bridges and install the two temporary bridges.
Crews worked extended days and all three days of Labor Day weekend in order to reach a self-imposed deadline of opening the temporary bridges on Tuesday, September 6. In appreciation of their efforts, the town of Carrabassett Valley hosted a Labor Day cookout for those working on the bridge.
On Tuesday at 8 p.m., just six days after construction started, traffic again flowed along Route 27 over the two temporary bridges.
It marked a successful culmination of efforts by both private and public sectors that provided needed relief to a region battered by a storm, and showcased a tremendous accomplishment that could only be achieved by working together.