FARMINGDALE — Business owners along U.S. Route 201 are bristling at losses they say they’ve incurred during road construction along the major Kennebec River corridor.

Most of the $6.9 million project, which began in April, is funded by the $57.8 million state “jobs bond” voters approved in June 2010. The Gardiner Water District is paying $600,000 to complete the water main work; the state is picking up the remainder.

According to Farmingdale selectmen, workers are finishing up installation of water mains beneath the road and, in August, will start working into the night to complete the project by November.

That’s cold comfort for Sharon Roy, who has owned and operated KV Health Club for 34 years and says the work site is pinching access to her business’ driveway.

So Roy and other business owners in the work zone are offering “construction specials” to entice customers to stop in as workers tear up the highway.

Roy is offering a free month’s membership, free coffee, free classes, free T-shirts and other giveaways. She has placed a big banner at the end of the driveway advertising the special, hoping motorists will see it while sitting in traffic and stop in.

“We want them to know that we still exist and we’re trying to accommodate them for the hardship,” Roy said.

Since the work started a few months ago, several customers who routinely work out during their lunch break told Roy they would not be stopping in this summer.

“It would take them 20 or 25 minutes to get here and it wouldn’t give them enough time to work out,” she said.

In addition, Roy said she’s talked to several people who live in Gardiner and who avoid the work site by crossing the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Bridge into Randolph and using Route 9 through Chelsea to travel to local destinations north of them.

Roy said she’s fortunate to have a membership that runs around 600, many of whom are longtime members; and that some clients have changed their routines to hit the health club when it opens at 5 a.m.

Still, she said her business hasn’t recovered from construction about five years ago at the northern end of Route 201, which is known locally as Maine Avenue.

“This month alone, I’m down by half (in revenue),” she said. “These people who are avoiding coming in are not hiring trainers, buying water or buying T-shirts.”

John Babb, president of J&S Oil Co. Inc., said his Farmingdale store is having similar problems.

To draw people inside, Babb said, he is offering midweek discounts of five cents per gallon of gas from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s a way to encourage people to come by and see us instead of taking a different route,” he said.

Babb says J&S Oil lost about 15 percent of its business volume when the state reconstructed the northern end of Maine Avenue about five years ago and has not recouped the loss.

Roy and Babb said they are discouraged that there are no alternate routes to their businesses.

“It’s in your mindset (to avoid an area) when you know there is construction down the road. It’s all about perception,” Babb said.

Roy said she would have liked to have seen the construction done after peak commuting hours.

“I wish they could have done that. This is one of the busiest arteries in the state,” she said.

Mark Latti, public information officer for the Maine Department of Transportation, said his office has not received any complaints from business owners.

“We understand that there is going to be impacts, and we try what we can to alleviate it,” Latti said. “We tried to lessen the impact by condensing the work into one season.”

Latti said MaineDOT is also working with contractor Sargent Corp. by accommodating motorists during peak traveling hours.

For example, he said, flaggers let more motorists through on their way to and from work as opposed to letting an equal amount of vehicles pass during the day. At times, he said, they put flaggers in front of businesses so people can get in and out easier.

The project was ordered because of drainage problems in the existing road base. Workers are removing old material and bringing in new material to cover the two travel lanes.

When completed, the road will be slightly narrower than it is now, and workers will construct a 5-foot sidewalk from DNK Motors to Northern Avenue, including crosswalks and solar-operated pedestrian signals.

Joyce Grondin is a Kennebec Journal correspondent who lives in Augusta.

 

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