Yarmouth councilors opt to retain Route 1 bridge

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YARMOUTH — Town councilors on Monday decided to keep the Route 1 bridge over Main Street instead of creating an at-grade intersection.

At an Operations Committee meeting Dec. 8, councilors said they plan to approve the creation of a new bridge at the Dec. 18 Town Council meeting. They also said they will appoint a committee to plan what the new bridge will look like.

“Next Thursday we can approve moving forward with a bridge,” council Chairman Jim MacLeod said.

The Maine Department of Transportation has asked the town to consider what course of action to take for the aging bridge. Yarmouth has the option to either renovate the structure as a two-lane bridge, or to remove it and bring Route 1 down to Main Street, creating an intersection.

Town Manager Nat Tupper on Monday presented councilors with a list of things to consider when asking MDOT for a new bridge. The list included lighting, guard rails, building materials, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and the width of the bridge. It also included questions about parking under the bridge, creating a bus stop under it, and putting up public art.

Tupper said it’s important to look at the details so Yarmouth can get the bridge it wants. Councilors decided to appoint a committee at the Dec. 18 meeting and have the committee consider everything on Tupper’s list.

“Let’s have a committee make these decisions and come back with some recommendations,” Councilor Rob Waeldner said.

MDOT needs to have Yarmouth’s final decision by June 2015; councilors want the committee to submit a report to the town by the end of March. The committee will have five members, including representatives from the Village Improvement Society, the Planning Board, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, and the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.

Paul Becker of Becker Structural Engineers will be the fifth member. Councilor Andy Kittredge will be the Town Council liaison and town engineer Steve Johnson will be the town liaison.

At a workshop meeting Dec. 4, six of the seven councilors said they think the bridge should be replaced, not removed. Councilor Tamson Bickford-Hamrock said she was still unsure about what should be done, since MDOT said whichever option is chosen is expected to last for at least 100 years.

“I’m really struggling with this,” she said. “This is a huge decision for our town. … (The decision) is not for today. It’s for today and the future. We only have one time to get it right.”

Councilor Randy Bates on Dec. 4 said while he would vote to keep the bridge if council votes this month, he is also concerned about the future.

“If we take the bridge down today, that’s a bad idea,” he said. “But it might not always be a bad idea. That’s why we have to think about the next few years.”

MacLeod on Dec. 4 said council shouldn’t base its decision on the future. He said if the bridge needs to be removed in the future, then the town could find a way to do so.

“People say it’s a 100 year decision, but it’s money,” he said. “With the right amount of money, the bridge can come down any time.”

MacLeod said for now he wants the bridge to stay up.

“For me, removal’s not an option,” he said. “I think the bridge is part of the culture in Yarmouth.”

Councilor Pat Thompson agreed, and said as a realtor she knows removing the bridge wouldn’t be good for the town.

“The village is what sells the homes in Yarmouth,” she said. “The village center is what draws people to this town.”

Thompson said removing the bridge would “kill” the town.

Kittredge agreed, saying Yarmouth’s village feel is what made him and his wife want to live there. He said council shouldn’t be spending time deciding what choice to make, but on how to make the best bridge.

“I’m fearful that we’d ruin what we have,” he said. “I think we should take some time to make the bridge what we want it to be.”

Councilor David Craig agreed.

“Let’s get the bridge/intersection decision out of the way and just focus on creating the best bridge,” he said.

Waeldner agreed, saying he wants to keep the opinions of residents in mind.

“As a representative of residents in the community, I’d have a hard time voting to take the bridge down,” he said. “Let’s spend some time working on getting the right bridge for Yarmouth.”

At the Dec. 4 meeting, around 75 people were in attendance and the public comment period lasted two hours. Almost everyone who spoke said they want the bridge to to be kept.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.