FREEPORT — Freeport voters will decide next month whether to spend $634,000 to add bike and pedestrian paths on a pair of I-295 overpasses.

The Mallett Drive and Desert Road bridges will be replaced after the Maine Department of Transportation deemed them structurally deficient. The state would cover the cost of the $15 million bridge replacement.

Taxpayers would have to fund the proposed 12-foot-wide multi-use paths with 32-inch-tall barriers if they want those included in the project. That would be paid for through a 10-year bond, amounting to a $14 property tax increase for a Freeport home valued at $350,000, according to Connect Freeport, an advocacy group that works to make the town more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

If the proposed paths are not approved, the MDOT will build a single, 6-foot-wide curbed sidewalk on each bridge, according to Connect Freeport.

The reason for the March 9 special election is to accommodate MDOT’s construction timeline, which is scheduled to begin in late 2021, according to council Chairman John Egan.

“We’re trying to get into the design now,” Egan said. “Which is why we’re having some urgency about getting the decision in front of our voters.”

The current bridges are 60 years old. The new replacements are expected to last longer.

“If we miss this window, it’s another 75 years before we get a crack at having connectivity between the two sides of Freeport,” said Egan.

Egan also said that the bridges will not be under construction at the same time, to avoid severe traffic complications, and the proposed improvements include two different lanes for both bikes and pedestrians.

The referendum is also supported by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a Portland-based non-profit that advocates for improved bicycle and pedestrian accessibility.

“That infrastructure is what makes people feel comfortable on the roads,” the coalition’s Angela King said.

King said that the need for more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is a statewide issue and that the DOT is beginning to acknowledge that more people would like road and bridge construction to consider other modes of transportation instead of just cars.

“As a state, I think there’s a lot of work to be done,” King said.

In-person voting will take place at the town hall between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. and absentee ballots, which are now available, can be submitted by mail or dropped off in person by appointment, until 6 p.m. March 4.

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