SKOWHEGAN — Debate that ended a decade ago over construction of a second bridge over the Kennebec River in town is back on the table.

And just as it was 10 years ago — even 20 years ago when the idea was first hatched — the conversation this time will be about where the new bridge should go, not whether the town of Skowhegan needs one to reduce traffic congestion on the existing bridges and through downtown.

Skowhegan town officials met last week with state Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt and director Martin Rooney of the Program Management Division, who will head up the project, to discuss plans, starting with money for a work plan and feasibility study, Town Manager Christine Almand said.

Almand said the transportation department wants to get the project moving into its January planning session for funding for the work plan. She said the plan would cost $300,000 to $350,000 and the town would contribute between 10 and 20 percent of the cost.

“The town needs to have some skin in the game, is what (state officials) said,” Almand said Monday. “We’re certainly moving forward as far as getting involved in the work plan.”

The bridge itself would be financed through state and mostly federal highway funding, with no local money involved, except for project add-ons or upgrades, such as decorative lighting.

The new bridge would span the Kennebec River and connect U.S. Route 201 and U.S. Route 2. Plans are to include a study of possible locations — up to a mile upriver and a mile downriver, on both sides from the existing Margaret Chase Smith Bridges on Island Avenue, where the fire station is.

Those bridges are only three lanes wide and carry an estimated traffic count of 19,140 cars and trucks crossing every day, according to 2014 figures.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said “the big hassle” years ago surrounding the thought of a second bridge was an additional proposal for a bypass road, which property owners along the river on U.S. Route 201 and in town objected to because it would have taken parts of their property.

The bypass is now off the table, a plan that Walter Hight, whose family owns Hight auto dealerships, said he was against all along.

“I’m not saying I’m not in favor of a second bridge,” Hight said Monday. “I’m not in favor of bypassing Skowhegan — put the bridge right at the end of the Municipal Building and go right up North Avenue. That’s the shortest distance across the river.

“The last time I wanted to ford something, I tried to find the narrowest place to do it, wouldn’t you?”

Hight said the bridge could be located between Angelo’s Pizza and New Balance on the U.S. Route 201 side and cross the river near the current Veterans’ Memorial Park, which could be moved to another prominent site in Skowhegan.

In a non-binding referendum in March 2004, residents voted 2-to-1 to support construction of a second bridge, but opposed — in a vote of 854-544 — a connecting route that would bypass the downtown.

Members of the Second Bridge Committee, organized in 1997 to address traffic and truck congestion in the downtown, voted to disband in 2006. The committee was formed initially to find a way to divert truck traffic away from the downtown area and Madison Avenue, to make the downtown more user friendly.

In 2005, the transportation department estimated the entire second-bridge project would cost $35 to $40 million, but construction costs have grown since that time.

Almand said the state spent $1.8 million in federal money to study the idea more than 10 years ago, “leaving some to believe that we need to make this project happen.”

“They’re saying right up front that it’s going to take years,” Almand said. “The commissioner was very upfront and honest saying there will be some groups that don’t want this and that we have to work through those issues. He said the first study was started in 1998, so all of that information being 20 years old, they feel it is necessary that we start over from scratch. A lot of things have changed.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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