FALMOUTH — An old, wooden bridge that spans the Pan Am Railroad tracks behind the Falmouth Crossing Shopping Center, providing access to a system of trails on town-owned property, has been closed after it was deemed unsafe for vehicles and pedestrians.
Becker Structural Engineers of Portland did a survey of the River Point Bridge at the end of March and determined that “the bridge railing is in poor condition and does not meet minimum life safety standards for pedestrians or vehicles.”
The report also cited moss and mildew growth on the deck boards and severely deteriorated crib abutments that were so rotten the wood could be removed by hand.
Town councilors on Monday examined the bridge, which provides access to the popular River Point Conservation Area used by birders and hikers.
“I felt like safety should come first in this situation,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said of his decision to close the bridge.
Even fire and rescue personnel have been prohibited from using the bridge to access the area, he said.
Becker provided the town with two alternatives. The first is to remove the bridge and abandon the crossing, which would cost just under $80,000. The second is to remove the wooden bridge and build a replacement steel truss that could support small tractors and vehicles, but not large trucks. That proposal was estimated at $400,000.
Councilors discussed the possibility of erecting a temporary structure to maintain pedestrian access to the area. Some worried that removing the bridge entirely would send people walking across the tracks.
“I’m just as concerned about someone crossing the bridge as I am about someone getting hit by a train,” Councilor Bonny Rodden said.
In addition to Somali groups from Portland that have utilized the property for farming, the town recently put out a trail map that includes the River Point Bridge as an access point to the 41-acre River Point Conservation Area and a long trail through the preserve that eventually ends at Falmouth High School.
“Town groups have highly promoted this area,” said Caleb Hemphill, a member of the Falmouth Land Trust and an avid birder.
Hikers can still gain access to the conservation area using the trail head on Falmouth Road, but Hemphill said it is unlikely people would use that access point because of the lack of parking and the fact it is more than a mile from the prime birding areas.
“It’s popular because of the very easy access, but for the bridge,” he said.
Until the bridge was closed, hikers could park in the nearby Hannaford Bros. parking lot.
Hemphill said he and other volunteers have constructed other bridges, including a aluminium bridge across a branch of the Presumpscot River, and that they would be able to help with this project as well.
“It would be nice to see a temporary solution,” Hemphill said. “Because once we do this, once we take this down, nothing’s going to happen.”
Councilors instructed Poore to talk with community groups and develop a recommendation.
Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore, left, discusses the closing of the River Point Bridge near the West Falmouth Plaza with Town Council Chairman Tony Payne and Councilor Bonny Rodden on Monday. The bridge, which leads to a popular walking and birding trail, had to be closed due to safety concerns.