CUMBERLAND — The Town Council voted unanimously on Monday to prohibit heavy commercial trucks from using Mill Road.

Town Manager Bill Shane said the change to the town’s traffic ordinance was borne from the rezoning along Route 100 several years ago to allow more commercial development. The change prompted concern from area residents that it would draw heavy trucks using Mill Road as a through road to reach the commercial districts.

“We have … completed an engineering study of the road and have concluded that it made a lot of sense to limit the type of truck as well as prohibit through trucks on Mill Road,” Shane said, adding that vehicles would be limited to 18,000 pounds, about the size of a UPS truck.

Shane said the change doesn’t keep oil, trash or delivery trucks from using Mill Road.

“I’m talking about trucks driving through from Route 100 over the Blanchard Road, making no stops along that road,” Shane said. “We’re restricting those trucks.”

Meanwhile, the debate over Foreside Road improvement project continues.

During the meeting’s public comment session, Mike Lebel, chairman of the Route 88 Bike/Pedestrian Committee, defended the project.

The Town Council voted unanimously Dec. 14 to borrow up to $4.5 million for improvements to the road’s shoulder and drainage. The following morning, Jim Higgins of Hedgerow Drive, initiated a petition to halt the council’s action through referendum.

The Cumberland Taxpayers Association co-founder has had 30 days since the council decision to obtain signatures from at least 10 percent, or about 570, of the town’s registered voters, and return the petition to Town Clerk Nadeen Daniels.

“The scope of the project includes a number of aspects,” Lebel said. “Safety, drainage, some correction of the surface of the road and some pedestrian access to the road. … This is a road that has had little, if any, work done to it for more than 25 years; I personally have lived on the road for 53 years.”

“I’m the last fella in the town to want to be spending taxpayer dollars frivolously,” Lebel added. “This is not what this project is all about.”

Lebel also responded to opposition claims that Cumberland should work to clear some of its existing debt before assuming more, saying, “if we’re going to delay this project seven years, or 10 years, we’re going to more than double the cost of what this project is going to cost us today.”

He said the current bidding environment among contractors is aggressive, meaning Cumberland was more likely to more competitive offers.

Higgins was not at the meeting, but he responded to Lebel’s comments later Monday night. He said the chairman of the Federal Reserve is concerned these days about extended-term deflation.

“In other words, prices going down,” Higgins said, adding that there is “no basis of fact” for the cost of projects like the Foreside Road work increasing in the current economic climate.

“Their issue is not based on fact; it’s based on fear,” said Higgins, referring to concerns that delaying the project would make it more costly.

Lebel argued that safety issues on Foreside Road are significant. In addition to several near-misses, he said his wife was actually struck by a vehicle and taken to the hospital.

“For somebody to suggest that there are no safety issues on this road, they can contact me directly, and we can talk to the fact that there are most definitely safety issues on the road,” Lebel said.

Higgins countered that “if a road isn’t safe to walk or bike on, people should stay off the road. Most roads in this town are not safe to walk or bike on, and in these economic times we just can’t afford to make every road safe for pedestrians or bikers. … Most roads in this town do not have safe shoulders for that.”

Higgins added that his mother was hit by a car on Greely Road about five years ago.

Last week, Shane said Cumberland has seen an average tax increase of about 3 percent per year for the past eight years. He said the anticipated cost of the road project is about $18 a year for the owner of a home valued at $350,000.

Still, Higgins said, tax increases can hurt.

“The biggest thing we’ve seen as we’ve brought these petitions around is retired folks, or folks who have lost their job, who are afraid they can’t afford to live in this town anymore because of the high taxes,” he said.

“That’s why I’m fighting so hard for this thing,” Higgins added.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

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