Final push for trail bridges funds

The Eastern Trail Alliance needs to raise $1 million by the end of the year to fund a new bridge crossing over the Nonesuch River in Scarborough.

The final push is on to raise the remaining $1 million needed by the end of the year to build two new bridges on the Eastern Trail that would close a 1.6-mile gap between Scarborough and South Portland.

Construction of the bridges, one over the Nonesuch River and one over the Pan Am railroad tracks near Pleasant Hill Road, has been a goal of the Eastern Trail Alliance, which maintains and operates the trail, for more than a decade, according to Carole Brush.

The total cost of the bridge projects is $3.8 million, Brush said. Of that amount, $2.8 million has been raised through various funding avenues, including from the communities of Scarborough and South Portland, as well as the state and federal governments.

So far, Scarborough and South Portland have pledged a combined $70,000 toward the bridges project, with the trail alliance seeking another $216,000 from the town of Scarborough. The money is included in the town’s proposed 2016-17  budget, which the Town Council is scheduled to vote on Wednesday, after the Current’s print deadline.

The 65-mile Eastern Trail in Maine extends from Kittery to Bug Light in South Portland and is part of the East Coast Greenway, which spans 2,900 miles from Florida to Maine.

Construction of the two bridges between Scarborough and South Portland would actually create a new, 16-mile section of off-road travel for the Eastern Trail, Brush said. The Maine Department of Transportation said closing the trail gap between the two communities is one of its highest-priority recreation projects.

The Eastern Trail was created 16 years ago, and since then millions of people have used it to bike, run and walk through many of southern Maine’s most scenic woods, tidal marshes and traditional New England communities, according to the Eastern Trail website.

The urgency about raising the remaining funding needed to build the two bridges is that if the $1 million is not raised by the end of the year, the money pledged by the Department of Transportation may be diverted to other projects around the state.

With that possibility in mind, Tom Hall, Scarborough’s town manager, said, “Timing is critical because we’ve raised the majority of the funds, but time is (now) running out.”

The project is in the final stages of design and is on schedule to start construction in early 2017, according to Brush.

“It’s critical that the project start (as planned because) we don’t want to risk the funding being diverted to other projects,” she said.

Hall agreed.

“It would be heartbreaking to see that happen,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for over 10 years and are on the cusp of it becoming a reality.”

Brush told the Current this week that finishing that part of the trail “will create a continuous, non-motorized, multi-use corridor nearly 20 miles long in the most densely populated region in the state, connecting Bug Light in South Portland with downtown Saco.”

Overall, she said, the Eastern Trail provides “a safe and convenient facility for bicycle commuters, recreational riders, walkers (and others) to use for transportation, health and enjoyment.”

She said that the Eastern Trail Alliance is anxious to get the full funding for both bridge projects now because having to “construct one section at a time would add to the overall cost of the project and both in money and in time (we would be better) served by completing the entire 1.6-mile gap at once.”

Building the Nonesuch River crossing is the cheaper of the two projects, Brush said, with an anticipated cost of about $150,000. The goal would be to use existing railroad abutments to create a nearly 35-foot span.

The bridge over the railroad tracks is expected to cost $2 million, she said. The bridge would be 327 feet long and cross over two active tracks. In addition, earthwork approaches to the bridge would also have to be constructed.

Brush said there is a lot of support for the what they are calling the Close the Gap campaign, including from private donors, nonprofits and corporations, which shows just “how invested the state, the region and the residents of Greater Portland are” in seeing the project completed.

A closer look

The Eastern Trail Alliance is holding a meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, at the Clambake Restaurant in Scarborough, which will include updates on the Close the Gap campaign. Those interested in attending can RSVP tonancy@easterntrail.org.

To make a donation to the Close the Gap campaign, see to www.easterntrail.org. For donations made before Nov. 1, the Eastern Trail Alliance will make an up to $50,000 match.

The Eastern Trail Alliance needs to raise $1 million by the end of the year to fund a new bridge crossing over the Nonesuch River in Scarborough.

A 35-foot span over the Nonesuch River at the spot shown here would cost about $150,000, according to the Eastern Trail Alliance.

Users of the Eastern Trail wishing to go from Scarborough to South Portland have to go miles out of their way, but with a new bridge over the Nonesuch River an important 1.6-mile gap between the two communities would be closed.

A view of the Nonesuch River in Scarborough as it flows toward the ocean.