BLUE HILL, Maine — The Maine Department of Transportation is leaning toward replacing the Falls Bridge instead of repairing the 85-year-old structure.

The bridge is located along Route 175 in South Blue Hill and spans the inlet from Blue Hill Harbor into Salt Pond. The department has been developing a plan to upgrade the bridge for several years, but recently notified town officials that they were considering a complete replacement of the bridge.

“The sense I get is that the department wants to replace the bridge but is willing to listen to other options,” Selectman Jim Schatz said Thursday.

MDOT spokesman Mark Latti said the department has not made a final decision on a plan for the bridge but, based on economics, favors replacing the bridge.

“From an economic standpoint, replacing the bridge makes more economic sense,” Latti said Thursday. “You  get the most value for the money, and in this climate, that’s the way we’re leaning.”

Replacing the bridge would deliver a bridge with an expected life span of about 85-100 years. Repairs to the bridge would extend the life of the existing bridge by about 15 years, Latti said.

The bridge was built in 1926 and is nearing the end of its life expectancy, Latti said. Both the deck and the substructure have deteriorated and are considered substandard. Although the bridge is still safe, he said, if something is not done, eventually the bridge would have to be posted limiting heavy loads.

Replacing the bridge will involve some consideration of its historic nature and of the impact such a project would have on the environment.

“It is a unique structure, and it is in a unique location as well,” Latti said.

The arched concrete bridge design makes it distinctive, he said. The department likely will discuss the project with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to get its thoughts on the plan, he said.

Latti said that, because of the bridge’s environmentally sensitive location near the Salt Pond and the bay, the department also will have to seek permits through the Department of Environmental Protection as well.

There are two camps locally when it comes to the bridge, according to Schatz. There are those who consider the historic value as paramount and seek to preserve the historic integrity of the structure, he said.

“Then there is the other group that just wants to see a newer, safer, wider bridge,” Schatz said. “My sense is that there are more people who want the safer, wider bridge.”

The department has requested $4.7 million in the state’s next biennial budget for the repair or replacement of the bridge. While those funds likely will be enough to repair the structure,  Latti said, it might not cover the entire cost of replacement.

If the state opts to repair the bridge, the project could be done within the next two years, Latti said.

“If we decide to replace the bridge, we’re looking at probably five years out or so,” he said.

Although the MDOT is leaning toward replacement, Latti said, the department would provide an opportunity for local residents to weigh in on the issue. MDOT plans to meet with area residents this summer, but has not yet scheduled any public sessions.