YARMOUTH – The town must go ahead with plans to build a Route 1 pedestrian walkway beneath the East Main Street overpass or risk losing $400,000 in federal money for the project, a Maine Department of Transportation official told town leaders on Friday.

Town councilors had hoped that the state would allow a 1,450-foot extension of the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway to be diverted from Route 1, so it would rise and cross East Main Street and connect with another section of the pathway.

Dan Stewart, manager of the state’s pedestrian and bicycle transportation program, revisited the project site Friday morning and heard town officials’ pleas for the alternative route.

They said the diverted pathway would be safer, serve more people and be easier to keep clear of snow, but they failed to persuade Stewart to let them use the $400,000 to build it.

“That’s a whole different project,” Stewart said. “It’s a good project, but it doesn’t solve your transportation problem. There will be pedestrians who continue to walk under the bridge.”

The first section of the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway was built in 1997, four years after the teenager was killed by a drunk driver as she walked along Route 1 from a video store at night with her boyfriend. The proposed extension would complete a portion of the pathway that was started in 2006.

A state committee chose to fund the $500,000 project because transportation officials were concerned that pedestrians must walk on a narrow paved shoulder beneath the overpass, Stewart said. The town’s share of the project as proposed would be about $100,000, including $5,000 in design costs.

The funding process was highly competitive, Stewart said, noting that 45 communities submitted $36 million worth of project proposals and his office could fund only $7 million. It would be unfair to other applicants, he said, if the state allowed Yarmouth to build a different pathway than the one it proposed.

Stewart urged town officials not to wait until another pedestrian or a cyclist is killed before they take action. He suggested that the town go ahead with building a raised sidewalk and safety barrier beneath the overpass and seek additional funding to build a pathway up and over the bridge.

“I do think the ultimate answer is one up and one under,” Stewart said.

The alternative route would be more expensive than the proposed route, costing an estimated $620,000 overall, said Town Engineer Dan Jellis. The council is expected to revisit the issue at an upcoming meeting.

“The town wants to move ahead with one (plan) or the other,” Jellis said. “We’re not going to scrap it entirely.”

Some people on Friday’s site walk questioned the need to extend the pathway beneath the overpass, noting that only one bicyclist used that stretch of Route 1 during the two-hour meeting.

The town didn’t do a pedestrian traffic study before seeking funding from the state, Jellis said. However, Police Chief Mike Morrill said the area near the Hannaford supermarket attracts many walkers and cyclists, especially on weekends.

Town Council Chairman Steve Woods urged his colleagues to avoid comparing the number of pedestrians in each neighborhood that would be served by the extended pathway.

“That shouldn’t be an overriding factor,” he said. “It’s a lifeline, and people’s lives are at stake.”

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

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