ALTON, Maine — At a special town meeting in Alton this Thursday night, voters will decide whether the town should enter into a cost-sharing contract with the state Department of Transportation for a substantial upgrade to the town-maintained Tannery Road.

The structural improvement is needed so that heavy trucks — including those headed for the nearby Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town — can use the 5-mile stretch as a detour next summer around a planned bridge replacement project on state-maintained Route 16 in Old Town.

An earlier version of the plan was rejected by five of the nine Alton voters who attended a town meeting in August. Selectmen are hoping for greater attendance this week, when a revised plan, which doesn’t call for a property tax increase, will be open for discussion before the vote.

According to the terms of the new proposal, about $100,000 in town funding would offset the state’s as-yet-undetermined cost of building up and resurfacing Tannery Road, which runs between Route 43 in Hudson and Route 16 in Alton. The town also is seeking approval to spend an additional $30,000 to replace some older culverts under the road in preparation for the upgrade.

The small iron bridge to be replaced on Route 16 crosses Pushaw Stream just above its confluence with the Penobscot River near Gilman Falls in Old Town. In addition to local traffic and heavy trucks loaded with wood chips and pulpwood, the bridge has had increased use since 2006, when operations at the nearby Juniper Ridge landfill ramped up.

When the bridge replacement project gets under way — projected for June 2009 — most traffic will be detoured along Interstate 95. But since federal weight restrictions prohibit trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds from using the highway, those trucks will have to detour on secondary roads. The project is expected to close the crossing on Route 16 for about three months.

The shortest and most logical truck detour is the old and lightly traveled Tannery Road. The next-best option, at least for trucks headed to Juniper Ridge, is a roughly 50-mile trek up U.S. Route 2 to Howland and back down the west side of the river to Old Town, according to Don Meagher, manager of planning and development in Maine for Casella, the Vermont-based company that operates the landfill.

Meagher said Monday that the Tannery Road detour is a significantly better option. About 50 trash trucks a day crossed the Route 16 bridge each way this June, he said, and about the same number could be expected next June.

“It’s a very dangerous bridge,” said Laura Sanborn of Alton, who lives on Route 16. Sanborn, a former state representative who served on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said the bridge is “a real old one” and the last to be repaired or replaced in the district.

Sanborn voted against the proposal at the August meeting, but said on Monday that she would support the new plan because it doesn’t require a property tax increase as the earlier proposal might have.

The new proposal would draw $25,000 from Alton’s local roads fund, $26,000 from the capital project fund, and $79,000 from a special fund filled by a per-ton tipping fee paid to the town by Casella.

Brian Engstrom, chairman of the Alton Board of Selectmen and a resident of Tannery Road, said last week that if voters don’t OK the investment of town funds, the road will have to be posted to keep the heavy trucks from using it as a detour. He cautioned that enforcing the ban would prove difficult, since the town lacks its own police department and must rely on the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement.

The special town meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Alton Town Hall on Route 16.

Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at