FARMINGTON — Selectman Tuesday night, Jan. 11, unanimously approved appropriating $200,000 in future funds to complete match requirements for a federal grant being sought to rebuild the Rail Trail Bridge.

In September $5,000 was approved towards a pre-engineering report required for the Economic Development Administration grant. Those funds were to come from the Rail Trail Bridge Reserve Account.

The new funds may come from the Downtown TIF Account or an alternative source of funding, Town Manager Christian Waller said.

The railroad bridge that allowed snowmobile travel across the Sandy River was removed several years ago. Since then the town, Androscoggin Valley Council of Government and the state have looked at ways to replace it. A study in the early 2000s estimated the cost at $1.6 million.

Costs to replace the bridge now were estimated at $2.8 million. The latest estimate for final engineering, permitting, trail and bridge construction is $2.5 million.

“That actually came in quite a bit lower than we were expecting,” High Peaks Alliance Executive Director Brent West said.

The pre-engineering report and an environmental narrative cost $25,000. Project management and a long-term maintenance fund will cost $200,000 bringing the total cost to $2.725 million. $345,000 has been received or committed towards the project. That leaves $200,000 in matching funds needed for the grant and $180,000 to be raised for management/maintenance.

“It will be a 336-foot long bridge,” West said. “I believe it will be the longest pedestrian, longest single span snowmobile bridge in the State of Maine if we’re successful in building it.”

The bridge will be of cable-stayed design with seven sections of trusses welded together suspended by cable.

“Joe Higgins at the snowmobile department at the state reviewed it, it’s up to his standards,” West said.

The width of the bridge was asked for by Selectman Scott Landry. He wanted to know if there would be room for two snowmobiles to pass.

The trail tread will be a couple inches over 10 feet, West said.

“We just went with what Joe Higgins said, what other state bridges were,” West noted. “(Higgins) was the one who called that, that was what the original plan had.”

Does the state have any requirements on minimum widths, Selectman Matthew Smith asked.

“They are all good with this, it’s been through the Bureau of Parks and Lands,” West said.

Last month West had asked for a $300,000 gift from the town to meet the grant’s Jan. 31 deadline. He hoped Selectmen would gift the lower amount now needed.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of support regionally for this,” West said. Ten local snowmobile clubs are in support and Wilton Selectpersons are expected to write a letter of support, he said.

An economic impact study estimated during construction 25 jobs would be created and there would be $1.5 million in regional spending, West said. Long-term the project would bring $861,000 annually to the local economy providing upwards of 13 jobs in the area, he noted.

“Those numbers are a pretty good indication this is a good investment for the town,” West said.

Selectman Joshua Bell wanted to verify funds could be committed now, appropriated later.

Permitting, obtaining letters from all agencies, and determining the final design still have to be completed, so there’s no way it can happen this year, West noted. If the grant is approved, everything would be in place to build the bridge — if not, other funding sources would need to be applied for, he said.

“This first shot is the best shot, then after that it’s multiple federal funds to come up with that same amount,” West noted. The county could be approached then, he added.

Selectman Stephan Bunker asked about opportunities for the county to share in the costs.

“If the grant is awarded, the county can still be approached for some of the other $180,000,” Waller said.

He spoke of a letter written by the Shiretown Riders Snowmobile Club which described the snowmobiles and pedestrians going across Center Bridge sidewalks in winter while tractor trailers drive by.

“The $200,000 seems relatively modest in terms of the public safety perspective,” Waller said.

“Our intention is to get the bridge built,” West said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Smith said.


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