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YARMOUTH — Residents are taking sides after the state told the town the overpass carrying U.S. Route 1 over Main Street must be renovated or torn down.
The Maine Department of Transportation has asked the town to consider what course of action to take for the aging bridge. 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 overwhelming response from most citizens is that they don’t like the idea of the intersection,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said.
Tupper said the overpass, which was built in the 1950s, was discussed at September’s Planapalooza event as part of the talk about the town’s character and development. He said that while the bridge wasn’t intended to be a focus at the planning event, it started a conversation.
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.
The two-lane bridge, which would have a projected 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.
“They may say we’ll allow you to do it, but we won’t pay for it,” Tupper said.
Tupper said people who want the bridge to come down say it will “provide a calming, slow (traffic) flow” through Yarmouth and would make the town more cohesive. He said people say it would make out-of-towners more aware of Main Street, and give Route 1 more of a Main Street vibe.
Tupper said others are concerned removing the bridge would have the opposite effect.
“People are afraid that instead of making Route 1 more like Main Street, it would make Main Street more like Route 1,” he said.
Tupper said those who want to keep the bridge are worried taking it down would “drastically change the nature” of Main Street.
Debbie Godowsky, who runs a business, Cookies Direct, out of her Main Street home, said she doesn’t want the bridge to come down.
“As a homeowner, it’s hard to say how bringing Route 1 down to Main Street will affect me,” she said. “That’s what concerns me, the unknown.”
Godowsky said she doesn’t agree with people who say making an intersection will bring more people downtown.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine someone driving from Falmouth to Freeport and saying, ‘I’d love to get some bread at Rosemont (Market) if only I didn’t have to get off this ramp,'” she said.
Joan Dollarhite, a resident who recently ran unsuccessfully for Town Council, doesn’t agree.
“If we slow down traffic, bring in more consumers, it’ll bring more business to Main Street,” she said.
Dollarhite said this will in turn make more people want to open businesses on Main Street.
Godowsky doesn’t buy that argument.
“I can’t imagine anyone saying they’d love to bring their business to Yarmouth if only Route 1 intersected Main Street,” she said.
She also said the town shouldn’t be making a decision that would be as permanent as removing the overpass.
Tupper said MDOT told the town that any option chosen will last for about 100 years.
“Once you take that bridge down, it’s gone forever,” Godowsky said. “It doesn’t make sense to make such a permanent change, just based on what people think will change Yarmouth.”
But Dollarhite said the town should take the chance, because it will improve the overall character of Yarmouth.
“Here the state is giving us the opportunity to change the character of Route 1 and make it more in line with the character of all of Yarmouth, which I think is a major reason to do this,” she said.
Godowsky said there is no problem or pressing need to change anything.
“Our concern is that if they felt removing the bridge would fix a problem, that’d be fine,” she said. “I don’t know what the problem is.”
Dollarhite said it would fix the problem of Route 1 being like a highway, out of character from the rest of the town.
“Taking down the bridge is the next step to taming Route 1,” she said.
Tupper said MDOT wants to know the town’s decision sometime this winter, so it can put the construction on its schedule and start on the project within the next few years.
The issue will be discussed at a Town Council operations committee meeting Nov. 24 at the Log Cabin. More meetings are expected to be held in December.
“The council has not said they want to take down the bridge,” Tupper said. “They want to hear people’s opinions on either side.”
Over the next couple of months, the Yarmouth Town Council will talk with the public to determine whether the Route 1 bridge over Main Street will be repaired or torn down.