By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Selectmen unanimously approved $125,000 in emergency funding to redesign the failing Teague Drive bridge.
The rusting culvert bridge was shut down June 5 because of safety concerns, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey. He asked selectmen to allocate the money at their meeting Monday so the town could begin replacing the dilapidated structure.
Taxpayers would only have to foot 20 percent of that cost — or $25,000 — if the town qualifies for state reimbursement for the bridge’s engineering costs, he said.
Engineering expenses are expected to total about $75,000. It would cost an additional $690,000 to rebuild the bridge.
Hickey said he was concerned Salem wouldn’t be eligible for timely reimbursement through the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. But the DOT told him earlier in the day that wouldn’t be a problem.
Otherwise, the bridge could not be reconstructed until 2015 instead of next year, Hickey said.
“It’s a decision the board needs to make on how to proceed,” he said. “It’s a matter of the risk the board wants to take.”
Applying for the reimbursement could still delay bidding and construction for several months, town engineering director Robert Puff said.
Taxpayers would save $50,000 if the town is reimbursed for the engineering, but the savings could quickly disappear if there are delays, he said.
Instead of seeking construction bids this winter, the project may not be put out to bid until next spring because of the state’s lengthy application process, Puff said.
“It’s clearly favorable from a priority standpoint to put the project out to bid in December or January,” he said. “That’s the flip side of the coin.”
The money selectmen approved for engineering costs would be taken from a capital reserve fund. A warrant article authorizing money for reconstruction would have to approved by voters in March.
“I’m hoping we can get it built in the building season next year,” Selectman Stephen Campbell said.
Only a preliminary estimate of the construction cost is expected to be available by the deliberative session in February, Puff said.
Selectmen agreed applying for reimbursement would be in the town’s best interest.
“We can go for the 80 percent in the hopes we get and still have an estimate for Town Meeting,” Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. said.
The bridge, which Hickey has said is about 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 closure means residents of approximately 50 homes on Teague Drive and surrounding streets will have to take a detour, according to Hickey.
Although Salem replaced eight bridges in recent years with funding help from the DOT, there is no construction aid immediately available for these projects because of a 10-year backlog.
Also Monday night, selectmen continued discussion of their budgetary goals for 2014. Selectmen said they are determined not to increase the tax rate.
Hickey told the board last week that unless spending cuts are made, the town could see an 8.4 percent increase in its portion of the tax rate.
Campbell reiterated his concern that rising town employee expenses, including health insurance costs, are busting the budget.
“The personnel cost is what’s driving the increase,” he said.