AUGUSTA — The long-awaited rehabilitation of Mount Vernon Avenue and part of Civic Center Drive and their punishing, potholed pavement could start as soon as Monday.
The complex project involves the replacement of and improvement to underground water and sewer pipes, crumbling sidewalks and retaining walls, and what’s left of its broken and battered pavement, between Boothby Street and the entrance to the University of Maine at Augusta.
One of the first parts of the project was the subject of extensive back-and-forth debate between city and state officials regarding the one-and-a-half-mile project — the replacement of the road surface.
State officials plan to do a major rehabilitation of the road surface in the summer of 2015, but city officials worried much of the pavement wouldn’t make it that long because several sections broke into pieces over the winter.
After discussions between city staff and the state Department of Transportation, officials have agreed to place a temporary layer of pavement on the worst section of Mount Vernon Avenue, between the bridge over Bond Brook and a fuel depot and city ballfields, near where the road widens from two lanes to three, starting as soon as this week.
“Our anticipation is we’ll mill (grind up the old road surface) that Tuesday and Wednesday and then hit it with the paving,” said Ernie Martin, DOT project manager. “We’re trying to get that done as quickly as we can, knowing how bad it is out there.”
That initial work could be completed in a matter of weeks. The state will be back in the summer of 2015 to take on the more extensive rebuild of the road, from Boothby Street to UMA.
While business owners on the road agree the work needs to be done, and note the road is so bad the bumps have scared some of their customers away, they are concerned the construction itself could also harm their businesses while it is taking place over parts of the next two summers.
That’s especially a concern because the project comes on the heels of, two summers ago, a major Greater Augusta Utility District project replacing sewer infrastructure between Mount Vernon Avenue and Bond Brook. That work area was in the backyards of building and business owners who’ll now see major construction taking place in front of them, on Mount Vernon Avenue. Work also took place underground on the road last year, as natural gas lines were installed on some sections.
“This is the fourth season in a row now Mount Vernon Avenue has had construction on it,” said Lou Craig, owner of College Carryout at 126 Mount Vernon Ave. “It has been a rough four years, and next year is going to be worse. Businesses are preparing the best we can.”
Craig said if motorists are delayed by construction, it especially hurts his business at lunch. Many people have only a half hour to eat, so if they have to wait in traffic 20 minutes to get in and another 20 to come out, they may not come at all, he said.
Scott O’Brien, owner of Augusta Florist at 118 Mount Vernon Ave., said the road’s condition probably has kept some customers away from his and other businesses and inflicted damage on his delivery vehicles, but he said he is fortunate to have loyal customers, so business has been OK.
He said he’s concerned the project won’t be completed in 2015 and could extend into May 2016, possibly affecting his busy Mother’s Day season. But he said the road’s current condition leaves a bad impression on anyone coming into the city over it.
“I just want them to expedite things as fast as possible,” O’Brien said. “The road obviously needs to be done — just look at it. It’s a gateway to the capital city, it needs to start looking like it. Hopefully, at the end of this, we’ll have a nice new road.”
Martin said the primarily state- and federally funded $2 million project will be completed in 2015.
State transportation, city and Greater Augusta Utility District officials have broken the project into three sections, with work starting as soon as Monday.
Work this summer will include the temporary resurfacing on the worst, southernmost section, as well as a shim coat of pavement on the northern end of the project area. That will provide both a temporary smooth surface, but it also will be used as a base coat for a planned final coat of new pavement to be put down in the summer of 2015, as part of the larger road reconstruction.
In the middle section of the project area, roughly from the fuel depot to the former Dostie’s Garage, north of the Bond Brook Mini-Mall, the utilities district will have a contractor working this summer to do water and sewer pipe work, including switching services on older, 8-inch water lines over to newer, 16-inch lines. That work is scheduled to start Monday, according to Superintendent Brian Tarbuck.
Tarbuck said the most involved work will take place at night, as traffic will be limited to one lane through the construction, for about a week. He said business owners on the road made it clear only one lane being open during the day was unacceptable to them.
O’Brien and Craig said they appreciated that the work will be done at night, though they acknowledged the flip side of that is it could be disruptive to residents along the road as they try to sleep.
Tarbuck said the district considered waiting until 2015 to do the work as part of the larger state rebuild; but it decided, after consulting with the state, that could make the 2015 work too complicated. So they’re doing it at the beginning of this summer.
After about a week of night work, the remaining work isn’t expected to require lane closures, and it will take place during the day, Tarbuck said, using horizontal drilling methods.
“Our goal is to be done by about July 4, but no one can see underground,” Tarbuck said. “Hopefully it goes well.”
Tarbuck said he understands the frustrations of businesses about customers avoiding the area because of construction.
The middle section won’t be paved this summer, other than where the utilities district digs trenches in the road, which will be paved over. That section will be paved fully in the summer of 2015, with the rest of the project area.
Water and sewer mains on the project area’s southern section also will be replaced in 2015, in conjunction with the state work, and drainage will be improved in the area.
Martin said state and city officials initially thought the entire section of Mount Vernon Avenue being worked on could be accomplished as a relatively quick “mill and fill” grinding and repaving project.
They soon learned otherwise, as they worked on the design of the project.
Martin said sidewalks in the area are so badly deteriorated they need to be replaced; retaining walls on the southern end of the project, where houses are within a few feet of the road, are in very poor condition and nearing collapse; drainage is inadequate and in poor condition; and some of the underground pipes need to be replaced.
“It was originally a mill and fill but we recognized the walls are not in great shape and the sidewalks, basically, are terrible,” Martin said. “We’re trying to do the right thing so we do it once in 20 years, rather than be back here in three years.”
Tarbuck said between the combined sewer overflow project the district did in the area two years ago and the upcoming water and sewer pipe work over the next two summers, the utilities district shouldn’t be in the area for major work soon, other than emergencies.
“Hopefully, once we’re out of there (in two years), we shouldn’t be back for 100 or so years,” Tarbuck said.
Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director who has been involved in the planning process, said the city’s actual roles in construction will be limited on the project on the state-owned road. She said the city will help with sweeping and maybe traffic control, but the major construction will be done by utilities district and state transportation contractors.
Even so, when motorists traveling those areas complain about the rough road, or damage to their vehicles from traveling on it, it’s often the city they call.
She said major reconstruction of state-owned roads is the state’s responsibility, while maintenance such as patching falls to the city.
Deteriorating state roads and a lack of adequate funding to fix them has resulted in the city having to do more and more patching, Jones said, adding that this year the city spent about $40,000 just on patching, up from what used to be a typical amount of about $15,000 a year for patching.
“People are damaging their cars on these roads, blowing tires, busting axles, having front-end damage,” she said, noting the also-state-owned Western Avenue is falling apart in some sections too, and isn’t due to be worked on by the state until 2016. “So we’re out there all the time, patching. We could have someone standing there 24-7 with a shovel, filling holes.”
A public hearing on the Mount Vernon Avenue project is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the lecture hall at Augusta City Center.
Still unknown is whether either of two locally competing gas companies, Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, plans to install pipe in the area during the project. Martin said the companies were contacted about the work but have not indicated whether they will seek to join the project and put pipe in as part of the larger project.
Tarbuck said the project has been in the planning stages for at least a year.
Despite the careful planning, the project schedule already could be affected by challenges.
Tarbuck and Jones said the utilities district discovered a broken or plugged sewer main somewhere under or near Mount Vernon Avenue late last week, in the lower section of the project area. They hope to fix it before the state begins paving in the area, so crews may be working in the area this weekend, trying to find and fix the possible break.
Keith Edwards – 621-5647[email protected]Twitter: @kedwardskj