Cumberland voters will decide today whether the town should spend as much as $4.5 million on road repairs.

At stake in the special referendum are reconstruction projects on Tuttle Road, Town Landing Road and Route 88, among others. Polls will open at Town Hall at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

In December, the Town Council unanimously voted to issue $4.5 million in bonds for road projects, including shoulder reconstruction, drainage repairs and new bicycle lanes.

But in January, the town received a petition with enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue. Town officials say the referendum will cost Cumberland $2,000 or less.

Proponents say delaying the road work will only increase repair costs in later years. Opponents question whether the town should be spending money on new projects.

One problem for Cumberland is that unless roads like Route 88 are repaired, they won’t be eligible for state funds for road construction.

Town Manager Bill Shane said that because of its current condition, Route 88 would receive funds only if state or federal sources provided additional dollars for transportation projects.

Cumberland would be able to request money if Route 88 were in better condition, he said.

Town Council Chairman Ronald Copp Jr. said contractors are looking for work now, so Cumberland is in a good position to get competitive bids. Also, the town expects interest rates on the bond would be higher after this year, which would also increase the cost.

“It needs to be done,” Copp said. “The way bidding is going, it’s cheaper to do more now than in the next couple of years. Contractors are hungry for work.”

In a presentation to the council last month, Gorill-Palmer Consulting Engineers estimated the cost of the project would be $6.6 million in 2015 and $7.8 million in 2020.

But Bill Higgins of the Cumberland Taxpayers Association says the town is overreaching. “Route 88 is one of our best roads, and I think it is a gold-plated project,” he said.

Higgins put the referendum in motion by filing petitions with more than 500 signatures. He said that if the town really needs to repair the roads, it should cut the scope and price of the project in half. Higgins said he doesn’t believe the town can afford to take on more debt.

“I don’t think it’s right the state has dumped these roads that need work on the laps of towns that can’t afford it,” he said.

To Michael Lebel, who lives on Route 88, the repair work is needed now more than ever. Recent storms have left the roads in worse shape, while traffic remains heavy because roads like Route 88 can be used as an alternative to Route 1, he said.

Lebel, who has lived in the area for 50 years, said the condition of the road will only get worse without substantial repairs.

“This particular stretch of road literally hasn’t been dealt with for 20 or so years,” he said.

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at: [email protected]