Yarmouth residents show support for keeping Route 1 bridge

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YARMOUTH — More than 100 residents attended Monday’s Operations Committee meeting, most to express displeasure with a suggestion to remove the Route 1 bridge over Main Street.

Yarmouth will either renovate the structure as a two-lane bridge, or remove it and bring Route 1 down to Main Street, creating an intersection.

The Maine Department of Transportation has asked the town to consider what course of action to take for the aging bridge. Although MDOT originally said the town had until next March to make a decision, the deadline is now June 2015.

MDOT originally presented the town with six options: two ideas for a roundabout, a two-lane bridge, a four-lane bridge, and two ideas for removing the bridge and creating intersections. The town narrowed it down to the two-lane bridge and the smaller of the two intersections.

Over the course of Monday’s three-hour meeting at the Log Cabin, almost everyone who spoke said they want the bridge to be renovated instead of removed. Residents asked for more information, more time, and some asked that there be a referendum.

“I feel that every person in the town of Yarmouth should be able to vote on this,” resident Judy Howe said. “… I think we as the people of Yarmouth have that right.”

Town Manager Nat Tupper said residents can’t call for a referendum yet, because there is currently nothing to oppose. Councilors haven’t voted on the issue, and Tupper said most of them haven’t fully formed their opinions about what should be done.

Tupper said if councilors do vote to have MDOT remove the bridge, then residents could create a petition seeking a referendum.

There was a petition was presented to councilors Monday night; Deb Hopkins, owner of Snip and Clip on Main Street, submitted 550 signatures asking councilors not to consider the removal of the bridge.

Tupper said councilors will continue to look at both options presented by MDOT.

Many residents said they want more information about what renovating the bridge would entail. Currently, cost is one of the only things that’s known.

The two-lane bridge, which would have a project cost of $3 million, would be completely funded by the state. The intersection, which is being called the alternative idea, would cost a little over $4 million and would be either largely or fully funded by the state.

Tupper said if the town chooses to take the bridge down and convinces the state that is the best option, the state may pay for it. If the town couldn’t convince the state it would be the best option, the state would provide $3 million and the town would pay the difference.

Residents said they want to know more about what the bridge will look like. Conceptual images of the intersection with no bridge have been presented after being shown at the Planapalooza event in September, but there have been no images of a renovated bridge. 

Tupper said he’s not yet sure how the bridge will be designed or what materials will be used to build it. Leanne Timberlake, MDOT’s project manager, was present at the meeting to answer questions, and said one change to the bridge is that MDOT wants it to provide more clearance over Route 1.

Timberlake said there is no legal requirement to raise the bridge, but that it is advised. She said it should be at the standard vertical clearance and should be raised from its current height of 13.5 feet.

With three meetings scheduled for December to discuss the bridge, some residents said the process is moving too quickly, especially when the town now has an extended deadline. Councilors didn’t say it will slow down, but said they will continue with its schedule and let things play out.

Tupper said before making any final decision, the Town Council wants to gather as much information and hear as much as input as it can.

“I think the Town Council is well aware of where most people stand on this, but we still want to hear from everyone,” he said.

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

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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.