You can't get there from here: Eastern Trail connection between South Portland, Scarborough remains elusive, expensive
SCARBOROUGH — If the "Bridge Out" sign is not enough, the drop down to the Nonesuch River from where a bridge used to cross the river is a vivid reminder of the obstacles blocking the off-road linkage of the Eastern Trail to South Portland.
But as a $150,000 study funded by the Maine Department of Transportation progresses, Town Planner Dan Bacon and Eastern Trail Alliance President Bob Hamblen are aware the water crossing may be the easiest part of constructing a 1.5-mile trail section to the Wainwright Field Athletic Complex in South Portland.
“There's a reason this segment is not built," Bacon said. "At least in Scarborough, it is the most complex section to create a trail.”
From Route 35 in Kennebunk to Bug Light Park in South Portland, for about 21 miles, the trail is largely off road, with the section between Thornton Academy in Saco and the eastern end of Scarborough Marsh primarily following the railbed of the defunct Eastern Railroad. It crosses the Saco River on Main Street in Saco, but there are pedestrian bridges spanning the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk and U.S. Route 1 in Saco.
But getting to South Portland from Scarborough requires going south on Black Point Road, and east on Highland Avenue to Gary Maietta Parkway. There the trail becomes part of the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, extending almost seven more miles to the coast.
"Crossing the (Nonesuch) river is comparatively one of the easier things to solve," Bacon said. "We can drop a bridge into the existing abutments."
Hamblen, who is also the Saco city planner, agreed.
"We recognize the Scarborough connector as one of the more complicated projects we will have dealt with,” he said.
In South Portland, City Manager Jim Gailey has set aside $180,000 for trail work.
"We are waiting and will see what Scarborough comes up with for a route from Pleasant Hill Road to the South Portland border," Gailey said. "We can't build a trail to nowhere."
The current study is not the first attempt at forging a trail. In 2010, $800,000 in federal money was requested in vain by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, to build a new bridge over the Nonesuch.
Scarborough and ETA officials also sought at least $2 million in DOT funding before the department opted for a study, which largely focuses on the route from the river to Pleasant Hill Road.
Privately owned land, the Pan Am railroad (also used by the Amtrak Downeaster) and Central Maine Power Co. utility infrastructure are in the path to Pleasant Hill Road. A potential railroad overpass conflicted with overhead power lines.
But Bacon said it appears a solution is in the works.
After crossing Pleasant Hill Road, he said options are Pond View Road or around the east side of Prout's Pond on Maine Turnpike Authority land. The Pond View Road option could be more convenient for area residents, but the path around the pond is already partly developed, Bacon said.
Saco residents funded trail extensions with a $500,000 bond, but Hamblen said he expects the Scarborough work would come from federal money passed through the DOT.
"MDOT has been very good to us and we hope that continues for a number of years," Hamblen said.