By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — In the wake of dwindling state funding, the town has been awarded $358,973 in grant money for three bridge projects.
The money, from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, will fund design work for bridges on Town Farm Road, Bluff Street Extension and Providence Hill Road, town engineering director Robert Puff.
The grants reimburse the town for 80 percent of its design costs, but no state funding is immediately available for the actual work, he said.
“It’s a long wait if it’s money for reconstruction,” Puff said.
The money includes $161,726 for the Town Farm Road bridge, $103,040 for the Bluff Street Extension bridge and $94,206 for the Providence Hill Road bridge.
Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. said yesterday he was pleased the town received the money, especially since the state has cut back on its funding of bridge projects.
“That money is completely for redesigning the bridges — there is no construction money at all,” he said. “We are not eligible for construction money until 2018 or 2019.”
State budget cuts and an increased demand for aid to fund the replacement of more than deteriorating 500 bridges on the state’s red list has reduced the availability of money for these projects, according to Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement.
This has led to 10-year waiting list, Clement said this spring. The state can only fund 10 projects a year and the $6.8 million in annual funding has not been increased in 17 years, he said.
That prompted Salem last year to postpone replacement of the Town Farm Road bridge project for at least a year. The town was counting on $800,000 in grant money for the $1 million construction project.
Although Salem currently has five bridges on the red list, the town has used state aid to replace eight other bridges over the last decade.
“The town of Salem has taken significant advantage of the money,” McBride said. “We have been able to rebuild our infrastructure.”
McBride said while it’s disappointing state aid is no longer available for reconstructing bridges, the money for design work is still appreciated.
“Taxpayers only have to pay 20 percent of the tab, which is phenomenal,” he said.
Replacement of the Providence Hill Road bridge began within the last two weeks. The bridge, built over Providence Hill Brook, was closed July 1 and traffic detoured.
Yesterday, a heavy equipment operator was busy removing the bridge’s steel culvert. Providence Hill Road has been closed from Atkinson Road to Shannon Road. The project is expected to continue until at least late August.
The town is also replacing the Bluff Street bridge this summer and reconstructing several roads, including Mall Road, Millville Street, Pond Street, Sand Hill Road and Stiles Road. The two bridge projects cost a combined $1.1 million, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey.
The Bluff Street bridge, built over Hittytity Brook, closed for reconstruction May 20. Bluff Street is closed to through traffic between Scotland Avenue and the intersection of Millville Street and Zion Hill Road. That project is also slated to last until late August.
Also this year, the town will develop designs for the reconstruction of the Shannon Road and Teague Drive, Puff said.
The town was forced to suddenly close the Teague Drive bridge month last month because it was unsafe. One of the two lanes had been closed for the last year.
Selectmen, who were not planning on reconstructing the bridge for at least two years, approved $125,000 in emergency funding for the redesign in June.
McBride said the town expects to tackle two of three bridge replacement projects next year.
Selectmen have yet to decide which bridges will be replaced. They include the Teague Drive, Town Farm Road and Shannon Road bridges. Reconstruction of the Bluff Street Extension bridge is at least a couple of years away.