SKOWHEGAN — The deteriorating condition of the Hilton Bridge on Red Bridge Road that connects Skowhegan and Canaan has forced officials to close it to all traffic.

For Mike Benner, who has lived on Red Bridge Road for 25 years, the closure is “a real inconvenience” to residents on the road and those who use it as a bypass to get from one town to the other.

“We used to just hop on the wheeler and visit our neighbors,” Benner said. “Now, I can’t get my tractor across the bridge anymore. So if a neighbor needs help, I can’t because I’m not going to drive all the way around.”

Driving around tacks on 6 miles to the trip each way, he said. The closure has not only disrupted traveling. Benner said he had problems getting his newspaper and fuel delivered because carriers travel from the Canaan side of the road.

“It would have been nice to have some warning that the bridge was going to be closed off completely,” Benner said.

Danielle Judkins, who has lived on Red Bridge Road for eight years, said closing the bridge has made her family, including two children, feel safer because there is less traffic traveling past her house.

“The entire time we’ve lived there, we’ve had issues with cars going too fast,” Judkins said. “Since the bridge has been closed, we have thought that it is wonderful. We feel that our children are much safer.”

The speed limit on the road is 45 mph.

Judkins recommended fixing the bridge to pedestrian traffic because “we’ve really enjoyed the bridge being closed to thru traffic.”

Officials recently put barriers on either side of Hilton Bridge to stop all vehicles, including ATVs and tractors, after a recent incident in which a horse and its rider almost fell through the bridge.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Don Kinney told selectmen last week that because the condition of the bridge has deteriorated so significantly, officials had to close the bridge because it is “nothing but a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

“If the horse went through the bridge, it would have broken its leg and the kid could have fallen through into the metal of the bridge or over it,” Kinney said. “(The bridge) has big holes. Within the last 16 months, the bridge has gone downhill fast.”

The bridge was closed about two weeks ago and officials have not said how long it will remain impassable.

The span was built in 1923 and is riddled with problems, with nearly half of the 61 wooden planks needing to be replaced. It is owned by both Canaan and Skowhegan, meaning the cost of repairs would be split between the towns.

Canaan Road Commissioner Michael Robinson Jr. said Tuesday that Canaan does not have money to put into repairs. He said support beams below the surface of Carrabassett Stream are rusted and it is not structurally sound enough for more than pedestrian traffic.

Money for such a repair would need to be allocated in Canaan’s annual budget, which is usually decided at the annual Town Meeting in March.

Kinney said Tuesday an engineer is expected to inspect the bridge this week and have a better idea for the cost of repairs.

Benner said barriers on the bridge should be moved to allow four-wheelers and tractors through, but Kinney said he would not support Benner’s suggestion until at least 30 of the deteriorated wooden planks had been replaced.

Kinney and Robinson said they could not estimate how much it would cost to repair the bridge. Kinney told selectmen last week Hammond Lumber had estimated the planks at about $4,500. He said the planks had been replaced several times, most recently about five years ago.

Steve Govoni, a Skowhegan resident and structural engineer at Wentworth Partners & Associates Inc., said at the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen’s meeting Aug. 24 he was asked in 2019 to assess the bridge at the request of Greg Dore, then the town’s road commissioner.

In his assessment, Govoni wrote he had observed several issues with the bridge, including “serious rusting issues that have certainly plummeted the capacities of that bridge.”

“That was in 2019,” Govoni said. “I can’t imagine that two years later it’s any better.”

Kinney said after the engineer takes a look at the structure, he will provide selectmen the findings and discuss the towns’ options.

In other matters, the Maine School Administrative Dictrict 54 board of directors has appointed Jacqueline Wolinski board. Prior to the vote, Lynda Quinn, chairperson of the board, asked selectmen to appoint Richard Irwin Sr.

“I have worked with him on the NSAD 54 board a number of times and find him very even-tempered and nonissue-oriented,” Quinn said. “He speaks his mind, works for the benefit of the children, which is what all school board members are supposed to be. He has decades of experience and we would love to have him back.”

Selectmen ultimately chose Wolinski after a failed motion by Selectman Paul York to appoint Irwin.

Wolinski was among those at the Aug. 12 school board meeting, at which she urged the board to drop mask requirements and leave the choice to parents.

Wolinski told the board she provides clinical mental health services to schools across the region.

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