By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

With Army Corps of Engineers and Maine Department of Environmental Protection approval in hand, it’s a “critical year” for a long-term project to connect the Eastern Trail between the Nonesuch River in Scarborough and the Wainwright Farm Recreation Complex in South Portland.

So says Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon.

“Completing this corridor would finally connect Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and points south all the way to South Portland and Portland,” Bacon said at a town council workshop last week.

Although only 1.6 miles long, making the connection between the two communities has been, according to Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall, a “daunting task,” in part because it requires building bridges over the Nonesuch River and Pan Am Railways tracks.

Bacon said finding a connection that works “without bumping into” private property has been challenging. Thus the proposed trail alignment follows a Central Maine Power corridor by Pleasant Hill Road before heading toward Prout’s Pond toward South Portland and eventually into the Wainwright complex. An alignment that passed by the pond prior to joining Highland Avenue and Gary L. Maietta Way was ultimately scrapped because of safety concerns for trail users.

The challenge at hand now is funding the roughly $3 million project, including the costs of the Nonesuch River Bridge ($75,000+) and railroad bridge ($700,000 to $1 million). The northern stretch – approximately 4,200 feet from Wainwright to Pleasant Hill Road – has been funded thanks to a grant from Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) and local shares from Scarborough and South Portland. Funding for the southern half, which includes the two bridges, is still up in the air, but PACTS and the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) have promised to fund sizable shares.

“The DOT sees this as the most important bike/ped project in the state right now and has dedicated almost half of the funding because of that feeling,” Bacon said.

The DOT has committed $1.5 million to the project and PACTS has committed another $650,000. The local share of the project from Scarborough and South Portland would be $216,000, meaning another $700,000 would have to be raised from other funding sources.

Despite the funding situation, Bacon said, “we are certainly much closer than we were.”

Bacon said officials are “courting organizations like Hannaford, Iberdrola (CMP’s parent company) and Cianbro for funding or in-kind donations.

Read the full article online here.