HALLOWELL — A quarter-mile stretch of Water Street will be the focus of the eventual revamp of the city’s main thoroughfare, but officials are biding their time deciding what type of project will happen.
Downtown business owners are in virtually universal agreement that the road, with an exaggerated crown in the middle and antiquated water and sewer lines beneath it, needs attention.
But the prospect of the project, estimated to take about a construction season, doesn’t excite many.
“I think ‘resigned’ is more the word,” said Lynn Irish, owner of Whippersnappers, a downtown fabric shop, and a city councilor-elect who takes office in January, “because it’s going to happen.”
At its Monday meeting, the Hallowell City Council unanimously accepted its Highway Committee’s recommendation to limit the project to the main part of the city’s downtown, between Temple and Winthrop streets.
Still, Councilor Alan Stearns, the road committee’s chairman, said before the meeting Monday that a final decision on the scope of construction is at least two months away.
At a committee meeting last week, Stearns said the Highway Committee also narrowed five construction scenarios given by the Maine Department of Transportation to two options — rehabilitating the road, which would cost an estimated $1.7 million in state and federal money but not allow for sidewalk improvement, or reconstructing the road, which would cost an estimated $2.8 million.
Stearns said both projects are expected to take similar lengths of time — between five and six months, including utility work.
The state document listing the options said the rehabilitation option wouldn’t allow for utility work and take a shorter amount of time, but Stearns said the timeframe could be lengthened to open the road for pipe work, and sewer and water officials have long expressed interest in replacing old water and sewer lines below the pavement.
“My current thought is that we should do it because I don’t think there are enough good pipes under the road to skimp on replacement,” Stearns said.
Road work would come at no cost to the city, but Hallowell officials would be able to decide on and pay for additional improvements. Stearns said one main add-on being discussed is an extension of the sidewalk on the Kennebec River side of Water Street from Lucky Garden Restaurant, near where the sidewalk now ends, to the boat landing.
The project could not happen until 2016 at the earliest, because funding becomes available then. Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the transportation department, said the project is still “a few years down the road.”
Earlier this year, the department concerned many when it said rebuilding the whole road from Temple Street to the Augusta line would likely take two construction seasons, but afterward, it worked to provide shorter alternatives.
State data provided earlier this year said a daily average of 14,390 vehicles travel the stretch of Water Street south of Winthrop Street. North of Winthrop Street, an average of 10,800 pass by daily.
Talbot said the department has encouraged the city to hold a host of public sessions about the project, which he said has caused “heartburn” among business owners. Stearns said there will be time for public input ahead of the council’s final decision on the scope of construction.
Irish, the councilor-elect and business owner, said it would be foolish not to do all necessary work underneath the road once it’s opened up. She’s trying to position her business to weather the project.
“A season’s going to be bad, but I’m going to try to position myself to maybe do more online sales so I don’t have to depend on traffic coming into the store so much,” she said.