SKOWHEGAN — Debate that ended a decade ago about construction of a second bridge over the Kennebec River is back on the table.

And just as it was 10 years ago – even 20 years ago when the idea was first hatched – the conversation is about where the new bridge should go, not whether Skowhegan needs one to reduce traffic congestion on the existing bridges and through downtown.

Skowhegan officials met last week with state Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt and Martin Rooney, director of the Program Management Division, who will head up the project, to discuss plans, starting with money for a work plan and feasibility study, said Town Manager Christine Almand.

Almand said the Department of Transportation wants to get the project moving into its January planning session for funding the work plan. She said the plan would cost $300,000 to $350,000 and the town would contribute 10-20 percent of the cost.

“The town needs to have some skin in the game, is what (state officials) said,” Almand said Monday. “We’re certainly moving forward as far as getting involved in the work plan.”

The bridge itself would be financed through state and mostly federal highway funding, with no local money involved except for project add-ons or upgrades, such as decorative lighting.

The new bridge would span the Kennebec River and connect Route 201 and Route 2. Plans are to include a study of possible locations – up to a mile upriver and a mile downriver, on both sides from the existing Margaret Chase Smith Bridge on Island Avenue, where the fire station is.

Those bridges are only three lanes wide and carry an average of 19,140 vehicles a day, according to 2014 estimates.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said “the big hassle” years ago surrounding a second bridge was an additional proposal for a bypass road, which property owners along the river on Route 201 and in town objected to because it would have taken parts of their land.

The bypass is now off the table, a plan that Walter Hight, whose family owns Hight auto dealerships, said he was against all along.

“I’m not saying I’m not in favor of a second bridge,” Hight said Monday. “I’m not in favor of bypassing Skowhegan – put the bridge right at the end of the Municipal Building and go right up North Avenue. That’s the shortest distance across the river.”

Hight said the bridge could be located between Angelo’s Pizza and New Balance on the U.S. Route 201 side and cross the river near the current Veterans’ Memorial Park, which could be moved to another prominent site in Skowhegan.

In a non-binding referendum in March 2004, residents voted 2 to 1 to support construction of a second bridge, but opposed by a vote of 854-544 a connecting route that would bypass downtown.

Members of the Second Bridge Committee, organized in 1997 to address traffic and truck congestion in the downtown, voted to disband in 2006. The committee was formed initially to find a way to divert truck traffic away from the downtown area and Madison Avenue, to make the downtown more user friendly.

In 2005, the Transportation Department estimated the entire second-bridge project would cost $35 to $40 million, but construction costs have grown substantially since then.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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