LEBANON - The Maine DOT Bridge Management engineer who is the pointman in the New Bridge Road bridge replacement project told selectmen on Monday that without the town's financial contribution there's a great likelihood the project would stall at the state level.
"The current commissioner likes partnerships," said Jim Foster from Maine DOT.
Foster said that if the town does agree to come up with the suggested contribution of $130,000 - which more or less mirrors Milton's tentative contribution on their end - the state would tentatively place the project on the 2019-20 work schedule, but even with Lebanon's commitment, that wouldn't guarantee the project couldn't be delayed, or even scuttled.
To further muddy the water, in response to a question from The Lebanon Voice, he added that the bridge replacement might go through in 2019-20 even if Lebanon doesn't agree to the "partnership."
"It's up to higher people," Foster said, noting that there is both a DOT decision that is based on density of traffic, detour lengths and safety concerns, and then there is also the "political" part of it.
Lebanon selectmen appeared on Monday night to be already on board with Lebanon's contribution of about $130,000 to the project, but sought to draw out guarantees from Foster and the state that the project would move forward expeditiously if the financial commitment was made, but to no avail.
Consensus among selectmen was that about $100,000 was available in the Local Roads Assistance Program, leaving some $30,000 that would be asked from Lebanon taxpayers in the form of a referendum question next May.
State Sen. Ron Collins, who was at the meeting, said he would do his best on the political side to expedite the project.
In September Collins said he doubted the state would ask Lebanon for any money to replace the bridge, which is listed officially as state owned and state maintained.
The bridge connects Lebanon and Milton over the channel between Northeast and Depot ponds, part of the Milton Three Ponds system.
New Hampshire will be in charge of the constructions and has already firmly set 2019-20 as the construction timeframe.
The funding mechanism for bridges between Lebanon, Maine, and Milton, N.H., has historically been that the state of Maine pays half, with New Hampshire's half being shared between Milton (20 percent) and the state (80 percent).
When the bridge was first removed some four years ago, former Maine DOT engineer Chip Getchell hinted even then that Lebanon money might be necessary to expedite the project. It was first closed to vehicles in November 2010, but remained open to pedestrian traffic till it was removed two years later.
A year ago, the cost of the replacement bridge had been estimated at around $1.4 million.