MILTON — Anyone interested in traversing the Townhouse Road bridge will have to wait until up to two towns and two states find $1.4 million to replace the structure, which was closed last fall.
The 94-foot long timber bridge, which was built in 1948, is jointly owned by the Town of Milton and the Maine Department of Transportation, according to Nancy Mayville, municipal highways engineer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation's Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance.
It was closed in the fall of 2010 after officials determined it was unable to support traffic, especially the weight of winter maintenance vehicles. The state determined about 600 vehicles used the bridge daily, with seasonal increases in the warmer months, according to Mayville.
Residents can use a five-mile detour — using the bridge in downtown Milton — to access the area from the south or utilize a bridge in Milton Mills to the north.
Residents are concerned about a variety of issues, from heavy trucks bouncing across the bridge, to kids leaping into the Salmon Falls River and the need to reroute local traffic.
Joe and Michelle St. Lawrence, who live along Townhouse Road, feel the good points about the lack of bridge access are outweighed by the negative aspects.
"The positive part is it cuts down on the speed," Joe St. Lawrence said, adding many children and families walk along the road to swim on the lake.
They both agreed that the bridge served as a local shortcut to Sanford, Maine, and the lack of access forces people in the small lakeside neighborhood to take detours or go elsewhere for various reasons, including for a boat launch or to get an ice cream.
"I would like to see a foot bridge," Michelle St. Lawrence said, adding many residents and visitors used the bridge to get a snack at Everett's Cove Marina and Ice Cream, in Lebanon, Maine.
Jeff Everett, who owns the New Bridge Road marina with his wife, said much of his business comes from foot traffic from Mi-Ti-Jo Campground on Townhouse Road.
Everett said they lost 25 to 30 percent of their ice cream sales when the bridge, which was previously barricaded, was shut down — even to foot traffic in September.
"I'm not sure if the ice cream store will be able to stay open," Everett said, adding ice cream allows customers a chance to see that the marina also offers boat rentals and other services.
While Everett cannot predict what this season will bring, he's frustrated that the process to request state aid didn't begin sooner.
"That clock starts when the town puts in the paperwork," Everett said, adding if Milton town officials submitted the necessary forms five years ago, they could have been halfway there.
Mayville said she has discussed the matter with Milton officials, and residents have had two opportunities to express their views to the town and state.
Mayville, who oversees the State Aid Bridge (SAB) program, said New Hampshire legislators created the SAB program in 1994 to help communities construct or repair municipal bridges. She added the program reimburses communities 80 percent of the costs for a project, which are typically managed by individual towns.
Mayville said since 1997 the state has provided $6.8 million in highway funds for the program annually. She added this allows the state to assist with 10 to 12 projects per year.
Out of the 1,686 municipal bridges in the state, Mayville said 998 — or 59 percent — are in satisfactory condition, 353 (21 percent) are below legal load capabilities or are in poor condition, 280 (16.6) percent have a major element in fair condition and 50(3 percent) are closed.
"The State Aid Bridge program is heavily in demand," Mayfield said, adding funding could be available for the project July 1, 2021 — in Fiscal Year 2022.
"If the SAB funding should increase, as is currently under consideration, then construction could be done sooner," Mayville said, adding state legislators are considering an increase to the gas tax, which could double the funding for the SAB.
Mayville said officials from Maine's Department of Transportation estimated it could cost $1.4 million to build a two-lane bridge — which is 24 feet wide and 110 feet in length. She added the project would include design, road work, the removal of the existing bridge structure and part of the costs for a temporary bridge.
Mayville said the cost would be split equally between Maine and New Hampshire.
"On the New Hampshire side, the total cost would be approximately $700,000," Mayville said, adding the town would have to pay $140,000 and get reimbursed for $560,000 through the SAB.
Mayville said bridge funding in Maine "is also heavily in demand with other high priority projects," but if the Town of Lebanon contributed to the project, it would improve the possibility of getting available funding.
"None of the three or four parties appear to be in a position to fund their portion of the project, temporary or permanent, in the near-term," Mayville said, adding local officials would need to ensure matching funds are available for the project.