YARMOUTH — A Maine Department of Transportation official has told the Town Council that building a state-funded pathway over the East Main Street bridge is unlikely to be approved because of safety and process issues.
Councilors, meanwhile, are divided over whether to accept the state’s approved grant money to build a continuation of the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway under the bridge, connecting the Hannaford Plaza to the East Main Street ramp off southbound Route 1.
Town officials had not received a final answer from the DOT as of Tuesday, Sept. 13. But DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager Dan Stewart indicated at a site walk on Friday, Sept. 9, that the state would not fund a project going over the East Main Street bridge.
“The (Route 1) project is urgently needed, lives are at stake,” Stewart said Friday. “The ‘up-and-over’ project is a separate project and we can entertain an application for that, but it is separate from the application to go under at this time.”
The town submitted the grant application to DOT in 2010 to help fund construction of the pathway along Route 1 between the Hannaford Plaza and the East Main Street ramp. Since the project is estimated to cost about $500,000, the state agreed to fund 80 percent while the town would be responsible for 20 percent.
As recently as Aug. 18, the Town Council approved a non-binding resolution to indicate a preference to construct the pathway over the East Main Street bridge. But the resolution states that if it is not financially or physically feasible for the pathway to take that route, then it should be constructed under the bridge, as originally proposed.
Councilors also approved spending $25,000 – or $20,000 more than required by the state – for design and engineering work for the alternative option.
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.
Stewart said the state received funding requests from 45 communities totalling $36 million and Yarmouth’s proposal was seen as an urgent safety need.
“This project scored high because of the serious safety issue, not because of the larger picture of connecting a pathway,” Stewart said. “There is no room (under the bridge), people are walking on the shoulder, and someone is going to get killed.”
Since the project that was approved was to create a pathway under the bridge, Stewart said it would be unfair to other applicants if Yarmouth changed its plan at this stage in the process.
Stewart also said pedestrians would still travel under the bridge even if the over-the-bridge option is approved because people tend to take the most direct route available. Crossing the Route 1 corridor is also a concern, he said.
“Going up and over does not address the safety concerns (we have) under the bridge,” he said. “The concern is that (if) we build it up and over … someone gets killed because (under) is the shortest distance.”
While the site walk was an opportunity for town staff and councilors to question Stewart, the decision to continue forward with the design and engineering work still rests with the council.
And as of Monday, councilors remained divided.
A straw poll taken at an Operations Committee meeting Monday evening revealed three councilors – Leslie Hyde, Randy Bates and Council Chairman Steve Woods – support the original Route 1 proposal. Three councilors – Erv Bickford, Carl Winslow and Tim Sanders – oppose the under-the-bridge option.
Councilor Andy Kittredge was undecided.
“I said I would agree to the under-the-bridge option (if the other option wasn’t available) and I’ll stay with that, but I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “I don’t like the under option, but I’m trying to serve the town. This is not just about me.”
The council is expected to discuss funding the project at its October meeting.
Sue Ellen Bordwell of the Yarmouth Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, left, talks with Police Chief Mike Morrill and Town Councilor Leslie Hyde during a site walk at the East Main Street bridge to examine the unfinished stretch of the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway.