Topsham considers town construction of riverside trail

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TOPSHAM — Planning Director Rich Roedner is seeking input from the Maine Department of Transportation about who should build a riverside walking trail.

The Androscoggin Riverwalk project is estimated to cost about $20,000 more than anticipated, and town officials have been looking into ways to save money. Having town crews build the trail instead of putting the construction out to bid could save the project money, but DOT and federal authorities must first approve the plan.

Roedner said he approached DOT this week about what it would take to get approval from that agency and the Federal Highway Administration for two construction options. One would have the town serve as the project’s general contractor, with outside contractors hired for pieces of the project. This option is expected to help keep the project under budget.

The other option would be for town crews to do the entire project. But a concern raised Jan. 19 by the Board of Selectmen was whether the work would pull crews from other tasks in town.

“The sense from staff was that this is something that we could do over the course of the summer,” Roedner said. “Fitting it in here, fitting it in there, piecing it together,” instead of building it all at once on a full-time schedule.

Public Works Director Dennis Cox said a “very minimal” amount of work would probably be set aside.

But like Roedner, Cox said “we aren’t going to sit down and do this work like a contractor (who) might come in and do it in four weeks. Public Works won’t be able to dedicate that type of time.”

The riverwalk will run from the Androscoggin Pedestrian Swinging Bridge to Summer Street. It then would connect to the Summer Street sidewalk and proceed across the Androscoggin River and into Brunswick via the Frank J. Wood Bridge, also known as the “Green Bridge.”

A future section in Brunswick has been planned to link the two bridges.

DOT is providing 80 percent of the total $120,000 anticipated cost of the town’s portion of the project, or $96,000. The Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk advisory committee raised the 20 percent local match of $24,000 for Topsham’s part of the project.

But construction is now expected to cost closer to $140,000, which is why the town is trying to find savings.

The recently completed Bridge to Bridge Trail, which runs from the Swinging Bridge to the Black Bridge, was built by Topsham Public Works as an in-kind match. Doing the same with the riverwalk would require no funds from the town, and all costs would be reimbursed by either DOT or the riverwalk committee, Roedner has said.

“Unlike the (Bridge to Bridge) trail, this one is federal money instead of just state money,” Roedner said. “And the federal government has a preference to going out to bid and having it done privately.”

Mountain bike trail

The Board of Selectmen on Jan. 19 also unanimously approved the concept of a mountain bike trail at the town’s recycling center property.

The project will have to come back to the board again for final approval, and to address liability issues, and rules and regulations governing operation of the trail.

According to a Dec. 14, 2011, letter from Topsham Conservation Commission Chairman Gary Fogg to Board of Selectmen Chairman Don Russell, the commission supports a request from the Greater Topsham Trail Alliance and Topsham Trail Riders Association to build the trail.

Funding for the approximately five-mile trail, which could be built this summer, would be raised by the alliance, which would also handle construction and maintenance.

“We understand that the primary use of the property is for solid waste management and recycling,” Fogg wrote. “The Conservation Commission will be glad to work with the Greater Topsham Trail Alliance, TTRA and the Town in any way that may be helpful to make sure that trail use does not interfere with this primary function.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.