AUBURN – Splitting a recreation path project between Festival Plaza and the Hilton Hotel into phases might let city officials get started this summer.

But work on the portion under the Longley Bridge wouldn’t begin until next summer, according to Jim Depalma, an Auburn city engineer.

“Ultimately, to make this happen, we need to be able to break this project into chunks, for economic and construction reasons,” Depalma said.

Work extending the Riverwalk path from the Festival Plaza to the southern edge of Court Street could begin this July, Depalma said. That would involve building a new path along the river, behind Gritty McDuffs and a flat landing directly beneath Longley Bridge. It would also make the area behind Grittys handicap accessible.

“The abutment we build probably wouldn’t be close enough to the water to let people fish, but you would have a heck of a nice view of the falls looking under Longley Bridge,” Depalma said.

Work on the next phase, putting a path under the bridge and building a stairway up to Court Street on the north side, could start next summer.

The last phase of work, continuing the recreation path under the bridge north along the river, would be delayed indefinitely.

The Maine Department of Transportation set $400,000 in federal and state grants to pay for the project in 2003. The project has been delayed since then, awaiting engineering designs.

“It’s the state’s money, but we administer, design and manage the project,” Depalma said. “But they hold the purse strings, so we need them to sign off before we do anything.”

Depalma said the state should decide early in May.

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