YARMOUTH — A divided Town Council voted 4-3 to extend the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway under the East Main Street bridge, using up to $100,000 of town funds.
At a council meeting on Oct. 20, Councilors Erv Bickford, Carl Winslow and Tim Sanders voted against the proposal, siting financial and safety concerns. Council Chairman Steve Woods and Councilors Leslie Hyde, Randall Bates and Andy Kittridge voted in favor of the under-the-bridge route.
The 1.6-mile pathway was established along Route 1 in 2006 and named for Condon, who died when she was hit by a vehicle while walking along the shoulder. The path extends from Portland Street to near Interstate 295 Exit 17, except for a middle section that hasn’t been built due to financial limitations.
The town submitted a grant application to the Maine Department of Transportation in 2010 to help fund construction of the pathway along Route 1 between the Hannaford Plaza and the East Main Street ramp. The project is estimated to cost about $500,000, and the state agreed to fund 80 percent.
The council has struggled for the past few months to reach consensus on the design of the middle section of the pathway. Most councilors prefer an option to build the path over the East Main Street bridge, but MDOT representatives determined an over-the-bridge path could not be funded.
Dan Stewart, the bicycle, pedestrian and quality community program manager at MDOT, told councilors in September that the grant application specifically cited the need to connect neighborhoods and businesses north of the bridge to the Hannaford Plaza area and sidewalks with a direct connection under the bridge.
He also said Yarmouth’s project was chosen based on the need to improve safety for people who now walk under the bridge along Route 1.
The alternative – to build a path over the bridge – would not fully address the safety and transportation issues for the pedestrians who will continue to walk under the bridge without the sidewalk, and the other option would cost more, he said.
Bickford wanted to hold off the vote for funding the under-the-bridge option until the council saw the design and construction plans. His motion failed, but Town Manager Nat Tupper said he would bring a recommendation to the council before construction begins.
During public comment, John Kyle, owner of Pat’s Pizza, said although the over-the-bridge option would be better, any improvement would be positive.
“Whatever we do is an improvement over what we have now,” he said. “I think it’s not a question of if somebody is going to get hurt there, it’s a question of when.”
A handful of other residents spoke in favor of the pathway, but both Police Chief Mike Morril and Fire Chief Byron Fairbanks urged councilors to make the pathway as safe as possible for pedestrians.
“I support the need to connect it whether it is up over or underneath, as long as it is connected safely,” Morrill said. “That is the No. 1 priority.”
In other business, the council held a public hearing on a lease of the Winslow Fire Station on Center Street to an arts group. The council voted 5-2 for Tupper to continue to work with the arts group and to take a final vote on the draft lease agreement in November.
Bickford and Winslow opposed the motion.
“I’m in favor of it going forward in this process, I’m not in favor of the location,” Bickford said. “The idea is great, but the location doesn’t work.”
Winslow said he wants to review the cost.
“How much can taxpayers support every project that comes down the road?,” he said. “I’m concerned about finances.”
This was the first vote in a two-vote sequence to ensure public awareness of the draft lease. The council is expected to review the art center’s proposed hours of operation and the zoning conditions in November.