CUMBERLAND — Whether the town should borrow up to $4.5 million to improve Route 88 will be decided by voters on Tuesday, March 2.
Monday’s Town Council meeting was packed with residents who heard representatives of Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers describe the drainage and paved shoulder work planned to address water quality and safety issues on the highway also known as Foreside Road.
The Town Council authorized a bond of up to $4.5 million for the project last December. The next morning Jim Higgins of Hedgerow Drive, co-founder of the Cumberland Taxpayers Association, began the petition process to send the council’s action to a referendum.
He eventually collected more than the minimum 578 valid signatures, enough to force a vote.
Higgins, who says the town must reduce existing debt before obligating taxpayers to more, argued Monday that $4.5 million could be used to pave 50 miles of town roads.
“I could list six or eight town roads that need a ton of work,” he said. “(Route 88) isn’t the only road. So for us to do this gold-plated, $4.5 million (project) on 2 1/2 miles of road, when we could pave 50 miles of road, is absurd.”
Council Chairman Ron Copp agreed that other town roads need work. But he noted that frost will only lift the new pavement, and that “if you don’t fix your underdrainage and your underpinning of these roads, the pavement is wasted money.”
Former Councilor Harlan Storey said Route 88’s drainage problem dates back 30 years, “and I think it’s time it was taken care of for safety reasons, (and) pollution on the clam flats.”
“It’s really not about whether the road needs to be done,” resident David Swan said. “I’ll agree it needs to be done. But can the town afford it? … This is going to add to our debt.”
Councilor Steve Moriarty pointed out that no time is ideal to spend the kind of money demanded by the project.
“It’s never convenient,” Moriarty said. “It’s never easy, it’s never painless, it’s always challenging, it’s always gut-wrenching, and it’s always troublesome. You can’t avoid it. When you own and have to maintain roads, certain things have to be done, and it hurts to do it sometimes.”
The drainage portion of the work will run from the Falmouth town line to about 600 feet east of Teal Drive, while shoulder widening will stretch from the Falmouth town line to Schooner Ridge.
The current roadway is paved over concrete. The paved portion is 24 to 26 feet wide and 3 to 5 inches in depth, and the concrete layer is 18 to 20 feet wide and between 7 inches and 9 inches deep. The proposed typical section of roadway would have two 11-foot travel lanes, each with 5-foot shoulders.
The engineers noted that runoff sedimentation caused by erosion carries pollutants to the ocean, but that the proposed work would reduce pollution by curbing the roadway in problem areas. It would also eliminate erosion of roadway shoulders and adjacent property.
Engineer Tom Gorrill said the economic slump has made the current bidding environment positive from the town’s perspective. “You’re going to get quite a bit of work done for your dollar,” he said, “compared to what you would have had probably just a couple of years ago.”
Gorrill said he hopes for a bid on Route 88 lower than $4.5 million. He said his firm conservatively estimated that by 2015 the project could cost $6.6 million.
“If we went back just a couple of years ago, this would probably be a $6.6 million project,” Gorrill said.
Polls are open at Cumberland Town Hall, 290 Tuttle Road, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 2.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.