Whose tax dollars get rid of Crooked River bridge?

VEHICLES CROSS the Crooked River Bridge while traveling along Route 302 as seen from the old bridge. The status of the old bridge has been brought up at recent Casco Board of Selectmen meetings, but since no money has been allocated for this project, it’s unlikely the aging concrete bridge will be removed any time soon. (De Busk Photo)

VEHICLES CROSS the Crooked River Bridge while traveling along Route 302 as seen from the old bridge. The status of the old bridge has been brought up at recent Casco Board of Selectmen meetings, but since no money has been allocated for this project, it’s unlikely the aging concrete bridge will be removed any time soon. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer
CASCO — Most commuters whiz right past the aging infrastructure without even noticing it.
But, prior to 1958, it was the bridge that people drove over while traveling along Roosevelt Trail.
Fifty-five years after the Old Crooked River Bridge was given an inactive status, it is actively falling apart.
In fact, that status of disrepair has been the case for a while as noted in a bridge inspection report from the state transportation department.
The easy answer would be to demolish the bridge. Two factors make that solution less viable. One: There is no money budgeted for the demolition. Two: It is unclear which level of government is responsible for the bridge, and most likely more than one government entity would have to foot the demolition bill.
This month, Attorney Sally Daggett directed an official letter to the Maine State Department of Transportation (MDOT) on behalf of the towns of Casco and Naples. Daggett is a municipal attorney with the law offices of Jensen Baird Garner and Henry.
“The question being asked of MDOT is whether the towns have a legal responsibility for the bridge,” Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said.
“On what basis does MDOT think the towns have a legal obligation?” Morton said. There is no record of the state deeding the bridge to the towns, he said.
The first step is to determine if MDOT in fact is liable for the bridge or if the state shares that responsibility with the two municipalities, Morton said.
The old and the new bridges are almost parallel and both sit on the boundary of Casco and Naples.
“If towns have legal responsibility, we have to coordinate both towns and the state to have the money at the same time,” Morton said.
“It is a puzzle with a number of pieces that have to fit together,” Morton said.
Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said he thought MDOT turned over ownership of the bridge to the towns when the new road opened.
Paraschak had been apprised of the bridge inspection report that recommended that the two towns embark on a campaign to remove the unsound structure.
“The (Naples) Board (of Selectmen) is aware of it. MDOT does a report every two years,” he said.
According to the letter, which was dated April 9 and written by MDOT Assistant Bridge Maintenance Engineer Benjamin Foster, “I wanted to forewarn the municipalities of the extreme volume of debris above the bridge. This debris can cause serious consequences to the area during a large rain event if not removed.”
“It is my understanding that the towns of Casco and Naples requested that the Department participate in a bridge removal project that never came to fruition due to lack of municipal funds,” Foster said in the letter.
“I highly recommend that the towns initiate this project once again,” Foster said.
The bridge inspection took place in January, at which time the “channel was blocked with debris.”
The state bridge inspector made a note to Foster, asking, “Ben, have we an abandoned bridge, and should it be removed from the inspection list?”
According to Paraschak, the Town of Naples has an issue with MDOT relinquishing 100% responsibility of the bridge, and leaving its removal to the neighboring towns to prioritize and fund.
“It is an unfunded mandate to tear it down, and obviously a very expensive one,” he said.
He said the next best step would be to have an engineer look at it, and predict whether the project could be postponed for another five years.
“It is an old bridge in disrepair,” he said, adding he couldn’t really envision part of the structure being used for outdoor recreational purposes, especially since “the bank is really steep.”
“It is a very big cost that the state left with the town. There is no money budgeted for it,” he said.
Possibly, the town could address it during the next fiscal year by hiring an engineer, he said.
In recent months, Casco Selectmen Calvin Nutting has twice addressed the redundant bridge.
The Old Crooked River Bridge, which was built in 1922, is a concrete span. Currently, riders of snowmobiles and ATV’s use the bridge. However, large boulders and a jersey barrier bar vehicular traffic from crossing the bridge, which was rated in “very poor condition.”
Nutting expressed concerns that there was already a crack in the concrete, and chunks of the bridge could give way.
“It would be awful nice to remove the bridge before it collapses in the river,” Nutting said during a September meeting.

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