Kennebunk Elementary students help open new pedestrian bridge
When it comes to christening a new trail and bridge, there’s nothing like marking the occasion with help from nearly 500 elementary school students, a bagpiper and a moose to do the job. The bridge in question, the Eastern Trail Bridge crossing the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk, opened officially on September 28 when officials from the Maine Turnpike Authority, trail advocates and Kennebunk cut a bright red ribbon and Miles the Turnpike Moose and piper Travis Cote led students from Kennebunk Elementary School over the bridge.
“This is a very great honor for all of us,” said Turnpike Executive Director Peter Mills at a ceremony preceding the ribbon cutting and ceremonial hike across the bridge. “We need places where people can be up and outside, places where kids can be safe. This is a valuable community asset.”
The bridge completes a new 6.2-mile section of trail from Kennebunk to Biddeford, and trail advocates hailed it as a significant link in the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway vision of a continuous, traffic-free multi-use trail stretching from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida. To date, approximately 21 miles of trail in southern Maine have been completed, part of a 65-mile stretch of trail connecting Kittery and Casco Bay. If all goes according to the trail advocates’ vision, the East Coast Greenway in Maine will eventually include 387 miles of mostly off-road trail connecting Kittery with Calais.
The $1.3 million bridge is the first pedestrian bridge of its kind to cross the Maine Turnpike and represents years of planning and cooperation between the Eastern Trail Alliance, the Maine Turnpike Authority, MaineDOT and the East Coast Greenway Alliance. It is the first of two major Eastern Trail bridges set to open this fall; the second, over Route 1 in Saco, is slated for a November opening.
Bob Hamblen, current president of the Eastern Trail Alliance, made sure to thank project partners for their efforts: the Maine Turnpike for funding the bridge; HNTB Corporation for engineering work and project management; CPM Constructors for building the bridge; MaineDOT for providing federally dedicated bike and pedestrian funding for the trail and bridge abutments; and John Andrews, the founder and former president of the Eastern Trail Alliance, for being the project catalyst. Andrews said he was “just awestruck” with the new bridge and section of trail.
East Coast Greenway Trustee Tony Barrett lauded the new bridge and trail, noting that thanks to hard work and frugal planning, the trail and bridge cost about half of what a similar project in North Carolina cost. In gratitude, he also presented the Andrews and Mills each with an official East Coast Greenway trail marker to place on the bridge.
“Bridges are the most costly part of building trails, so thank you Maine Turnpike,” said Barrett.
Most of all, the event showed just how excited kids can get about transportation during even a short break from the humdrum of the school day. As students walked over the bridge, many of them stopped to wave at turnpike travelers and gleefully signal passing trucks to honk. Dozens of truck drivers were more than happy to comply.