MEXICO – For 30 years, Bill Arnold has lived beside a bridge on the Mexico side of Webb River, a stone’s throw from the end of Coburn Avenue in Dixfield. He and his wife raised their children there.

But now, the couple may have to leave before winter arrives, unless Mexico officials can resolve an access issue with the Thad White Bridge and the town road where the Arnolds and a handful of seasonal residents live.

It is no longer safe for oil or gas delivery trucks or sand and plow trucks to cross the deteriorating bridge. Firetrucks and school buses stopped crossing it years ago when its posted weight limit dropped to 8 tons. The river serves as the boundary between Mexico and Dixfield, each of which owns their part of the bridge.

Last week, the Maine Department of Transportation dropped the safety rating to 3 tons, surprising Arnold and Mexico officials who believed the bridge would be safe for another winter.

Norm Haggan, MDOT division manager in Dixfield, said Friday that the agency wouldn’t have done it now had it found the problem last summer that caused the safety rating to plummet by 5 tons.

“The timing’s terrible,” Arnold said on Friday. “We have to have oil and gas. Our immediate concern is that winter’s almost here. We may have to leave our home, and if we do, we don’t think that’s right. If we have to leave … it will certainly be a great hardship on my wife and I.”

He stopped short of blaming either the MDOT or Mexico officials, who have known about the problem for more than two years but did nothing to resolve it.

In August 2005, selectmen in both towns petitioned the MDOT to pay half the cost to replace the bridge. At that time, the estimated cost was $200,000. If the state paid half, Mexico and Dixfield would have each chipped in $50,000.

However, Mexico Town Manager John Madigan said on Thursday afternoon that MDOT basically ignored the petition.

Rightly so, Haggan said.

“It’s a town-controlled bridge. It was never the state’s bridge,” he said.

The MDOT would only help if the bridge served 20 miles of road and 30 to 40 homes. Then, it would be considered a state-owned bridge.

But the road where the Arnolds live is about of a mile long. It’s the eastern end of old Backkingdom Road.

Haggan said he suggested to town officials that rather than dump money into the bridge they should look into extending Partridge Lane, which branches off Leavitt Street, paralleling the river on the Mexico side toward the Arnold house.

Partridge Lane once connected to Backkingdom Road beside the bridge, but 1,000 feet of the lane’s middle stretch through a small wetland was abandoned years ago and is overgrown. Additionally, Partridge Lane serves a private development.

That’s why Madigan and Mexico selectmen must now try to get easements from development residents to make the private road a public way again, then improve the overgrown section. Because Partridge Lane isn’t a town road, they can’t spend public funds to accomplish that without first holding a special town meeting.

“We’ve got a long ways to go in a very short time to help a couple of our residents and a lot of landowners,” Madigan said.

Arnold’s faith in Madigan, Mexico selectmen and Road Commissioner Dave Errington is stronger than the bridge.

“They have assured me that I won’t lose any of the services that everyone in the town of Mexico has. So, I believe in the good intentions of John Madigan and Dave Errington,” he said.

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