Sewalls Falls project hits speed bump

Last modified: 8/10/2011 12:00:00 AM
Money is now available to design a new Sewalls Falls Bridge in Concord, officials said, but construction may be delayed from next year's scheduled start due to tight federal and state budgets.

The Executive Council is set to approve a contract today that would transfer oversight of the $14.5 million project from the state to the city government, said Bill Cass, director of project development for the Department of Transportation. That means money is available this fiscal year for final design work, he said.

But it's not yet known if money will be available in fiscal 2013 for construction, Cass said. Federal highway funding could be reduced, he said, and the state's 10-year transportation capital plan is being revised in response to state budget cuts. Sewalls Falls may fall down the priority list, he said.

"My guess is that the funding for the construction will probably be delayed several years in the 10-year plan update," Cass said.

The existing one-lane bridge over the Merrimack River was built in 1915 and is owned by the city. It's on the state's red list and city officials have said it won't be in use much longer without major repairs. The city's plan is to restore the bridge and build a second one-lane span next to it.

But the city is counting on federal money to cover 80 percent of the project's cost. And when a vehicle registration surcharge was eliminated in the state budget passed this year, DOT officials said the Sewalls Falls Bridge was among the projects that would be delayed or eliminated as a result.

Cass said money is in hand for the design work on the bridge project - $1.5 million this fiscal year, with 80 percent coming from federal funds and 20 percent from the city.

But he said it isn't yet known if the $13 million estimated construction bill, with $2.6 million in city bonds and $10.4 million in federal money, can be covered next year.

"The decision is going to be made with the availability of funding," he said.

The 10-year plan is under review now, Cass said, and public hearings will be held in September and October, including one in Concord. The Legislature will have the final say next year.

City Engineer Ed Roberge said it's good news the bridge project is moving forward. He said the city council will likely vote in October on its share of the money for the design work, which he said would probably take a year to complete.

Part of the design work includes acquiring rights-of-way for the new span, including land owned by the Monitor's parent company.

DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said the design work is "a major indicator that the project is moving forward," even if construction isn't certain.

"We are still looking at significant financial constraints at both the federal and state levels regarding our capital program," he said. "The Sewalls Falls Bridge is a local bridge and not a top priority of the state. But given its position in the current 10-year plan, it's less likely it'll disappear from the 10-year plan than other projects."

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.)




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