PROSPECT, Maine -- The elevator that takes visitors to the 420-foot-high observatory atop the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge has malfunctioned three times since it opened last month, and state officials want the problem solved.
In all three malfunctions, people inside the observatory had to walk down 42 stories of steps to get out. In the most recent failure on Sunday, riders were trapped inside the elevator for a half-hour.
State officials and a representative from Stanley Elevator met yesterday in Augusta to discuss how to fix the problem. The company said it will increase its oversight for its weekly maintenance and daily checks.
The failures are a part of the elevator's normal breaking-in process, said Carol Morris, a bridge project spokeswoman. But with the bridge being a tourist attraction, malfunctions are unacceptable, she said.
"We don't have safety issues," Morris said. "We have inconvenience issues, and that's what we're working to fix."
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge opened to motorists in late December to replace the deteriorating Waldo-Hancock Bridge across the Penobscot River between Prospect and Verona Island.
The observatory on top of a tower at the west end of the bridge opened on May 19, offering panoramic 360-degree views, including Mount Katahdin about 100 miles away . The cost of admission to the observatory and nearby Fort Knox is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
The elevator malfunctioned on its second day of operation, and again on May 28. In both instances, people were able to exit the elevator after it stopped at the base of the tower.
On Sunday, the elevator came to a stop about 2 feet above the tower base, trapping riders inside until a repairman could be summoned.
Morris said that as the elevator cable stretches, it apparently is sending signals to the elevator computer that something is wrong when, in fact, everything is fine. The signals cause the elevator to descend to the lobby level.
Through Sunday, more than 7,500 people had visited the observatory, Morris said. The elevator has been operating at capacity on weekends and at about 50 percent of capacity on weekdays.