FARMINGTON — Forty residents affected by the closing of Russell’s Mill Bridge turned out Thursday night to listen to planners from the Maine Department of Transportation discuss the bridge’s future.

None of the options presented by MDOT appealed to the crowd.

Although the bridge passed an October 2018 inspection, the state closed it in February when a town plow truck struck and destroyed a portion of the railing.

With limited resources, MDOT is implementing a review of bridge maintenance and repair across the state. The Russell’s Mill Bridge 2018 inspection score placed it in a three-year window for review. But the bridge closure prompted MDOT to elevate it on its priority list, making it the first to be considered.

Using traffic criteria (fewer than 300 vehicles a day passing over), the extra distance created by detours (less than 6 miles), and other factors including economic, historic and agricultural impact, Russell’s Mill falls into a category termed as low-use. About 170 vehicles used the bridge daily, and its closure adds 4 miles to the drive to Temple and 2 miles to Farmington.

“We are here to gather facts to be used in the decision-making process,” said Scott Rollins, assistant director of the Bureau of Planning with MDOT. “The bridge is considered low-use, but we are here for public input to report on the impact of removing the bridge to MDOT’s chief engineers before any decision is made.”

Replacing the bridge is estimated to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Potential outcomes were outlined by Rollins: Farmington and the state each pay 50 percent to replace the bridge, but the town would become solely responsible for future maintenance; the state removes the bridge and pays to improve the area where the detour goes, in this case Clover Mill Road. They could also consider other mitigation.

These options were not well-received by residents. Most complaints focused on the poor condition of Clover Mill Road, which is subject to flooding and has a dangerous intersection that is difficult for trucks with trailers to navigate. Others said turning the neighborhoods into one-way streets would hurt property values.

Town Manager Richard Davis noted Farmington has already negotiated with the Atlantic Salmon Federation to replace a major culvert on Clover Mill Road at the association’s expense. Removing Russell’s Mill Bridge would expedite the culvert work and the road would be built up to eliminate seasonal flooding and washouts. The Atlantic Salmon Federation and MDOT would cover the costs of such a project.

“But Clover Mill Road isn’t safe,” argued Chuck Hulsey of Temple. “I avoid it. Russell’s Mill Road is straight and you cross the river. Clover Mill runs parallel to the river and it always floods. The grades and curves are a hazard. The intersection is dangerous.”

“I want to see the cost analysis of replacing that bridge compared with rebuilding Clover Mills Road,” said Gary Edwards. “I understand it comes down to dollars. To make the intersection on Clover Mills safe will also be very expensive.”

While he initially supported the bridge replacement, Davis pointed out that adding $500,000 or more to the highway budget was not a good option for the town. Selectman Stephan Bunker echoed that position, saying that the select board had not yet discussed replacement but would as soon as it had more information from MDOT.

“The select board has to consider all taxpayers’ burdens,” Bunker said. “To add a half-million dollars to the highway budget, that would be a difficult town meeting decision.”

“But for the last 50 years very little money has been put into maintaining that bridge,” Hulsey said. “And now it’s so far gone, they say it’s too expensive to replace.”

Edwards added: “It’s like maintaining your house: If you don’t put money into it, it won’t last.”


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