YARMOUTH— The Route 1 bridge over Main Street in Yarmouth is near the end of its useful life, and town residents are already at odds over what should replace the aging overpass.

Town officials will soon begin examining whether they should build a span similar to the existing structure, or take the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake an intersection that some believe could spur future development on Main Street.

Some residents fear a single-level intersection would deluge Main Street with more traffic than it can handle, and one Main Street business owner is petitioning the town to stop considering any street-level option.

“They’re looking for a calming, slowing solution, and I don’t think it will be calming to people,” said Deb Hopkins, owner of Snip and Clip on Main Street. Hopkins, fearful that a grade-level intersection could harm Yarmouth’s village charm, began collecting signatures Tuesday and will turn them over to the Town Council Nov. 24 during a workshop on the project.

Also unknown – and a concern for Hopkins – is whether existing buildings would have to be removed, including the town’s Log Cabin, a meeting room for town boards and nonprofits, which sits close to the overpass.

Her fear was echoed by Christopher Shepherd, who runs Wicked Good Hot Dogs, a food cart that operates less than a block from the overpass.

Already, trucks going to and from a nearby lumberyard disrupt the village feel, he said. Shepherd also pointed out that the beloved annual Yarmouth Clam Festival features a two-hour parade down Main Street, and wondered what will happen should the overpass no longer be there to divert Route 1 traffic over the thousands of people who attend the event.

“It’s modernizing Yarmouth,” Shepherd said. “It will take away from Yarmouth’s character.”

Not everyone is ready to take the overpass option off the table, however.

Yarmouth Town Planner Vanessa Farr said she is working with the town planning board and council to start the public involvement process, which she hopes will be robust and will consider all the options.

“I think there needs to be a fairly thoughtful community process,” Farr said.

Route 1 was designed at a time when city planners’ main concern was vehicular traffic, a model that is being re-examined across the country, as well as along Maine’s coast, Farr said.

“Ultimately, if we’re looking at the bridge over Main Street, it’s part of a larger conversation about what is Route 1, what should it be in the future, and how should it function,” said Farr. “It’s this very fast highway that doesn’t need to be here. There’s no reason why it can’t function more like Main Street, why it shouldn’t have the same conditions as Main Street.”

Constructed in the 1950s, the stone and earth bridge, with two lanes of traffic in either direction, reflects an era of design that favored “big, fast and wide” roadways, Farr said. Today, planners around the country are exploring ways to de-emphasize vehicular traffic in favor of human-scale developments with built-in areas for pedestrians and cyclists – both of which are attractive to businesses and residents.

Although the Maine Department of Transportation has developed several options for the bridge on its own, including replacing it and other options for wide, grade-level intersection designs, Farr said the town will make the final decision, and that the process should include many residents and business owners.

“We couldn’t just take the bridge out and leave the (Route 1) road conditions the way they are today,” Farr said. “We would consider street parking and street trees. We would consider an esplanade (on the Royal River). We would also consider the opportunity for new development.”