LITCHFIELD — Memo to Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills: Keep the Lunts Hill Road bridge open.

The “memo of concern” is being circulated by David Smith, who lives two driveways from the bridge over the turnpike. He gathered more than 30 signatures in one day, he said.

“People I’ve talked to so far say it’s a bad idea, and they can’t believe it’s being proposed,” he said. “It would be literally shutting down almost a quarter of the town from the access.”

Two other residents also are seeking signatures on a similar memo.

The state says the bridge to the west of Pleasant Pond needs repairs, but that would be too expensive, and since the bridge isn’t used much a better option would be to close it.

“My mother owned the property abutting the turnpike when they built it 60 year ago,” Smith said. “They told her, ‘You won’t be inconvenienced. We’re going to build a bridge across.’ “

Smith said that promise to Fay Smith might have been forgotten by the authority.

“My mother’s used the ambulance several times in last four years,” Smith said. “She’s 86, and it would take several more minutes to get here if they had to go other way.”

He’s also worried about being on a dead-end road, which might attract illegal dumping and thieves. The road is parallel to Horseshoe Pond and connects to Stevenstown Road to the west and Pond Road to the east. The bridge is about a quarter-mile from the Pond Road end.

Smith works as a paramedic for the city of Gardiner, and says closing the bridge will double his 10-minute drive to work.

He also said Lunts Hill Road is in better shape than Pond Road, which becomes Plains Road to the south.

Mills will survey residents himself at 4 p.m. today, working with Sara Devlin, assistant government relations manager for the Maine Turnpike Authority.

“The real issue on the table is whether we spend the money on repairing it,” Mills said. “There are 76 bridges north of Portland, and they’re all in various stages of coming into line for heavy duty overhaul, repairs, and capital maintenance. It is now 2012, and the bridge was put into service in 1955.”

“Quite frankly we want Mr. Smith and other people like him to come forward and make a case,” Mills said on Sunday.

Mills said he and Devlin will hand out a fact sheet providing a $2.4 million cost estimate to fix the bridge, traffic counts, nearby bridges, alternative routes and diversion times. Lunts Hill Road bridge has an average of 167 trips a days, by the turnpike authority’s count.

“Any bridge under 400 trips is regarded as a low volume bridge,” Mills said Sunday.

He said he wants to know how much residents use the bridge, how much they rely on it and what they think about closing it.

“We’re not facing any immediate decision,” Mill said. “Sometime this fall we’ll decide whether to put it into the plan for repairs for next couple of years.”

“The cost to demolish the bridge would be about $300,000,” Mills wrote in an email sent Sunday. “The cost to maintain it for another seven to 10 years before demolishing it would be about $250,000.”

Mills and other turnpike authority staff spoke to selectmen last fall about the possibility of closing the bridge.

Town Manager Michael Byron said he warned the visitors at the time about relying on current traffic counts since they were likely to increase because of the proximity of developable land.

Selectman Rayna Leibowitz said on Saturday that the board has not been asked to take an official position on the bridge closing.

“It’s one of the original roads in Litchfield, and it’s a real important connector,” she said.

Leibowitz said Mariner Electric and Lunts Hill Garage are on the road, as are the Central Maine Beagle Club and the Maine Trail Riders Association.

She said the bridge is also used by through-traffic.

“There are folks coming out of Gardiner going across that way, picking up rubbish, delivering fuel oil. Those kinds of people have a vested interest in that as well.”

Smith’s memo says the road predates the turnpike and the signers oppose closing the bridge. They list their reasons as delayed response time in emergencies, additional costs for fuel and time for commuters, as well as inconvenience for residents, businesses and school bus drivers.

“In order to be a responsible owner of the bridge we would need to make an investment over next couple of years in the order of couple of million dollars,” Mills said. “There are eight bridges in Litchfield. We’re looking at the bridges that have very low traffic volume.”

The other two being evaluated by the turnpike authority are the southernmost turnpike bridges in Litchfield, both of which are one lane, Maxwell Hill and Ferrin Road.

Last week the turnpike authority proposed a toll increase that would bring in $26 million to help pay debts from a turnpike widening project in the southern end of the state.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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