The town of York, Maine, reconnected with its roots by having a bridge built in a historic area using state-of-the-art plastic materials.
The town purchased Struxure-brand composite beams, pilings and boards — all made out of 100 percent recycled plastic — from New Providence, N.J.-based Axion International Inc. for a small bridge over Rogers Brook, which runs adjacent to the 13-mile-long York River.
Construction of the bridge, which measures just 26 feet by 15 feet, was wrapped up in December and the project bears a list of achievements: the first recycled-plastic vehicular bridge in Maine and the first plastic bridge used in a public highway application in the United States.
The town paid $70,000 for the materials and $25,000 for construction.
The bridge is about three miles from the historic Sewall's bridge on the York River, which is a pile-driven wood design built in 1934 to replace the original trestle bridge that had stood since 1761, said Dean Lessard, director of York's Public Works Department.
That bridge, named after its creator Major Samuel Sewall Jr., was designated a “historic civil engineering landmark” in 1986, according to Maine's Department of Transportation.
Lessard said the plastic bridge sports a vintage look. “It bridges York's historic past to the future,” Lessard said. “We were looking for something that would maintain that historic look.”
The town decided to go with plastic because it requires no maintenance and is environmentally friendly, he said.
Axion President and CEO Steve Silverman said the beams are made from post-industrial and post-consumer waste.
Axion's Struxure products also have been used for bridges at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Peeblesshire, Scotland. Its clientele span the globe, including South America, Mexico, Australia and Europe.
“First of all, it's impervious to the elements. The sun doesn't affect it and there's no maintenance required,” Silverman said. “[Then there is] the obvious element of sustainability. We don't cut down trees and we don't burn fuel to manufacture the product.”
Silverman said the composite products are in competition with traditional infrastructure staples like steel, wood and concrete.
Although Axion's materials are “price compatible” with its competitors, Silverman said the Struxure line is more advantageous when costs of the entire life cycle are considered.
York's bridge was built under the guidelines of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Malcolm Kerley, chair of the association's subcommittee on bridges and structures, said the approval process for a plastic bridge is no different than it would be for wood or steel.
“[It's going to be] used more and more over time. There is a lot of interest,” he said. “We're trying to promote new technologies that would minimize maintenance.”
Lessard said the bridge connects a residential area in the 14,500-person town of York to a business district. People have already sent emails saying how proud they are of the project. The bridge goes along with many residents' desire to be more sustainable, he said. The town is also considering building a pedestrian walkway out of plastic boards.
“There is definitely a philosophy here in town to be green. All buildings must be LEED-silver-certified,” he said.