By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Town officials have taken some heat in the past for not fixing dilapidated roads and bridges.
But that’s changed in recent years as Town Manager Keith Hickey and the Board of Selectmen have committed to repairing several roads and bridges each year.
The projects are part of Salem’s 10-year road plan, which spends roughly $5 million a year on improvements. The town also is tackling a half dozen bridge projects over the next three years in addition to the replacement of a failing culvert on Teague Drive.
Voters will be asked in March to approve $1.6 million for the replacement of the Providence Hill Road and Bluff Street bridges — both “red-listed.”
Red-listed means the bridges have been designated as a top priority for replacement because they are becoming unsafe.
In 2014, the town will replace two aging bridges on Town Farm and Shannon Roads. Then, work begins in 2015 on the Bluff Street Extension bridge and the Teague Drive culvert, where problems closed one of two lanes on the residential road for the past year.
It will cost $2.6 million to replace those bridges and $800,000 to repair the culvert.
The projects were among numerous capital improvement projects reviewed by selectmen at their meeting Monday night. The board met with the leaders of several departments, including engineering director Robert Puff.
Puff outlined the town’s need to continue repairing roads and bridges. Selectman Stephen Campbell said the town’s five-year capital improvement plan was a little too costly.
“From my outlook, there is a little too much spending in the overall plan,” he said.
But there was no argument from Campbell and the four other selectmen that the road and bridge upgrades are needed. Hickey told selectmen the Teague Drive culvert is especially a concern.
“In my mind, having a failed culvert and one lane of a road closed is not acceptable,” Hickey said.
Another concern is the need to correct drainage problems on Route 28, especially if Rockingham Park becomes a casino.
Hickey said no one should jump to conclusions. A proposal to build a casino at the shuttered racetrack could mean several hundred jobs and further economic development.
But the Legislature must first vote to allow expanded gambling in the state. If that happens, Salem would still have to be chosen as the site for a casino.
The possibility of a casino at Rockingham Park also spurred discussion Monday of the best possible location for a proposed public safety complex to house the Police and Fire Departments.
“This plan is based on what we know today, and what we know today is expanded gambling hasn’t been approved yet,” Hickey said.
Puff said yesterday the five bridge projects planned over the next three years are in addition to eight others replaced in recent years.
“That will be 13 bridges in less than a decade, which is pretty good,” he said.
Puff said the five bridges to be replaced in 2013-2015 are about 50 to 60 years old and can still be driven on — at least for now.
But selectmen’s goal of saving money during tight times prompted them to decide earlier this year to push back some bridge projects.
Replacement of the Town Farm Road and Bluff Street Extension bridges was scheduled for this year, but was delayed until 2014 and 2015, respectively.