The state is threatening to withdraw federal funding to complete the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway along Route 1 in Yarmouth because town officials are waffling over the best way to do the $500,000 project.

The Maine Department of Transportation has agreed to spend $400,000 in federal money on the project, which would complete a 1,450-foot section of the bicycle and pedestrian pathway beneath the East Main Street overpass. The town would contribute about $100,000, including $5,000 for design costs.

The Town Council voted 5-2 last month to pursue an alternative plan that would divert the pathway up and over East Main Street and reconnect with the pathway along Route1. Councilors expressed a variety of safety and financial concerns, including the fact that no pedestrian or cyclist has been killed along that section of Route 1 and the possibility that the federal money isn’t guaranteed.

Dan Stewart, manager of the state’s bicycle and pedestrian program, is scheduled to revisit the project site with Yarmouth officials at 8 a.m. today. He offered little hope that they will be able to sway him to their way of thinking.

“It’s unlikely at this point that we’re going to approve a change,” Stewart said. “It’s a crucial gap in the pedestrian safety along Route 1 and a source of strong concern for the department. If the pathway goes up and over East Main Street, that safety problem will still be there.”

Stewart said pedestrians typically take the shortest route between two points and would likely continue to walk in the breakdown lanes beneath the overpass if the town diverted the pathway over East Main Street. Moreover, he said, the state wouldn’t approve a pathway extension that created an additional pedestrian crossing and safety hazard at East Main Street.

The pathway is heavily traveled by residents of two nearby apartment complexes who go to stores, banks, restaurants and medical offices along Route 1.

The first section of the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway was built in 1997, four years after the teenager was hit and killed while walking home from a video store at night with her boyfriend along Route 1. The section runs along Route 1, crosses Main Street near Town Hall and spans the Royal River to Forest Falls Drive.

The town decided to extend the pathway in 2006, intending to continue past the Hannaford supermarket plaza, beneath the East Main Street overpass and almost to Spring Street. The project exceeded its budget, however, so the town deleted the 1,450-foot section beneath the overpass.

Town councilors questioned the safety of building a raised sidewalk and safety barrier beneath the overpass because the project would reduce the width of all four travel lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet. Stewart said state transportation engineers have approved the reduction as safe and typical of many Maine roads.

Councilors also expressed reluctance to commit to the project because the town has many competing needs and federal funding isn’t a sure thing in a recession.

Stewart said many Maine cities and towns would gladly accept the $400,000 allocated to Yarmouth; 45 communities submitted $36 million worth of pedestrian and bicycle pathway proposals, and his office had only $7 million to allocate.

“There are never any guarantees for future funding, but we need to work under the assumption that it will come through,” Stewart said. “We’re not going to spend limited funding on a project without a commitment from the town.”

Town Manager Nat Tupper said a majority of councilors have indicated they would support building the pathway beneath the overpass if the state won’t allow the alternative. However, they still have to settle the question of fully funding the project beyond the design phase.

“Some councilors have legitimate concerns,” said Councilor Leslie Hyde, who supports completing the project as proposed. “But if the MDOT says it’s safe, I think we have to trust their experts. I’m worried about the people who have to walk to Hannaford’s because they don’t have a car. What we currently have is unsafe, and I don’t think anyone on the council wants to wait until there’s a tragedy to take action.”

If the town moves ahead with the project, the work likely will be done in 2013 — 20 years after Condon, then a 15-year-old Yarmouth High School sophomore, was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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