By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The town has immediately shut down the Teague Drive bridge because it’s unsafe.
Town Manager Keith Hickey said yesterday he was forced to close the bridge Wednesday and will ask selectmen Monday to allocate up to $80,000 in emergency funding so its replacement can begin.
That money would go toward engineering costs. It would cost an additional $800,000 to replace the bridge, he said.
The bridge’s culvert has rusted and there’s a sinkhole, Hickey said. Signs warn motorists that the bridge is closed.
“The corrugated pipe has deteriorated to a point that it’s not safe to have vehicles on it,” Hickey said.
Notices have been sent to approximately 50 homes on Teague Drive and surrounding streets to let residents know they will have to take a detour for at least the next year, Hickey said. A state Department of Transportation inspector came to check the bridge Wednesday, at the town’s request.
The bridge, which Hickey said is approximately 40 years old, is one of five in Salem on the state’s red list. Those are structures determined to pose a safety risk, and in need of replacement or major repairs.
All five are scheduled to be replaced within the next three years. The town originally planned to replace the bridge in 2015, but that schedule was accelerated.
“The engineering department has kept a close eye on this for 18 months,” said Selectman Michael Lyons, a member of Salem’s Town Wide Road Stabilization Committee.
“Now, it’s going to move to the top of the list,” he said.
One lane of the bridge has been closed since last year because it could no longer support traffic, according to Hickey. He warned selectmen in January that the bridge was a major concern.
“In my mind, having a failed culvert and one lane of a road closed is not acceptable,” he said.
Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride said Hickey notified the board Wednesday that immediate action was needed. He recommended dipping into a capital reserve account for the $60,000 to $80,000 needed for engineering.
McBride is confident the five-member board will honor Hickey’s request.
“I’m sure we’re going to approve funding for the design,” he said. “There are a lot of red-listed bridges and we are trying to get them done as fast as we can.”
The town began work to replace the Bluff Street bridge two weeks and will start rebuilding the Providence Hill Road bridge later this month.
Hickey said he hopes the new bridge can be designed by this fall and voters in March will approve the approximately $800,000 needed to replace the structure next year.
Although Salem replaced eight bridges in recent years with funding help from the state Department of Transportation, there is no construction aid available for these projects.
The state program reimbursed communities for 80 percent of construction costs. But dwindling funding and increased demand has led to a 10-year waiting list, according to DOT Commissioner Christopher Clement.
The town is still eligible for 80 percent reimbursement for engineering costs, Hickey said.