AUGUSTA — Paving on a half-mile stretch of Western Avenue used by some 23,000 motorists a day is expected to start this week, though delays mean the final layer of pavement won’t be put down until next year.

State Department of Transportation officials originally said the project, which began in September of last year, would likely be done by August. Work includes replacing utility pipes underground and moving utility lines overhead, adding turning lanes and sidewalks and eventually widening and replacing the road surface.

Now officials anticipate winter weather will put a stop to road construction before the job is complete this year. So crews will return when the weather warms next spring to apply the final coat of pavement and finish their work on curbing, striping and sidewalks and wrap up the project, likely by the end of June 2015, according to Shawn Smith, project manager.

Paving the eastbound lane, which brings traffic from Manchester into Augusta, is expected to start Thursday morning.

“Thursday we’ll move in and pave the base course of pavement on that side,” Smith said. “I think people will be happy when they start seeing some new pavement there.”

Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Byron, who lives on Smith Street, which enters Western Avenue in the middle of the ongoing reconstruction project, said he and his neighbors are indeed looking forward to having pavement returned. The section of road was so bad, even before it was torn up during construction, locals had dubbed it “the rumble strip.”

Byron said he and residents of the neighborhood have had concerns since at least 2006 about the condition of the road and aren’t surprised the work is taking longer than expected.

“We’ve learned to live with it here on Smith Street,” Byron said. “It is frustrating. There have been all kinds of delays.”

Smith said the complicated project has taken longer than officials first thought. Factors contributing to the delay have included last winter’s difficult weather, the discovery and removal of more ledge underground than was expected, and a slower process than anticipated to move overhead utility lines to new poles alongside what will be a wider road.

“The aerial utilities were delayed. They had bad storms throughout the winter which took them away from the job, and I understand splicing (of fiber optic lines) didn’t go as well as planned,” Smith said. “FairPoint had the bulk of the work. They ended up having a lot more work to do than they originally thought. And it’s all sequential. So if one gets delayed, they all get delayed.”

Jeff Nevins, a spokesman for FairPoint Communications, said some underground fiber communications cables were severed during the project, but the company completed its work on the project in July. He said securing easements from property owners surrounding the project delayed FairPoint’s work. He said typically the state secures those easements, but on this project, the state and FairPoint officials both worked on obtaining easements.

“Securing easements took longer than normal,” Nevins said. “Once we were able to get easements and get in to do the work, we were able to get the work done in an appropriate amount of time. It was a challenging project. Anybody who drives through there can tell that. Our attempt has been from day one to be there and do the work as quickly as we can.”

The work has resulted in delays for motorists, 23,000 of whom use that section of Western Avenue every day, according to a state Department of Transportation study.

Access to side roads and businesses in the area has been — and will continue to be — provided throughout the project, Smith said.

That’s key if your business relies on people being able to see and drive the new and used cars, ATVs and motorcycles your business sells.

Paul Blouin, of Paul Blouin Performance, a car and motorcycle sales and service business in the heart of the construction zone, along with major dealers Charlie’s Motor Mall and Darling’s Chrysler Dodge, said he doesn’t feel all the construction has actually hurt his business.

He said his sales are up 25 percent over the last two years, though he added new product lines, including Mazda cars and SUVS, in that time period.

“The contractors handling the job are first-class people and have done a great job directing people. I really thank them for that,” Blouin said. “This is the number one spot to buy a car in Maine between Charlie’s, Darling’s and I. And fortunately that has remained true during construction.”

That doesn’t mean the construction has been a joy for car dealers, however.

“We’re really looking forward to having pavement down and not having 150 cars with dust on them all the time,” Blouin said.

Blouin said it did seem to take utility companies a long time to move their utility poles out of the way so the rest of the project could proceed.

Moving the overhead utility lines was necessary to make way for the new wider road and new turning lanes being installed as part of the project.

Smith doesn’t anticipate the start of paving Thursday will add to delays for motorists.

He warned, however, that traffic patterns will change as paving moves ahead, so motorists should remain alert and cautious.

Paving on the eastbound lane could wrap up by Friday, Smith said, and traffic should be using that lane by next week.

Crews will then move to the middle lane and excavate that to prepare it for paving, likely near the end of the month. Once the middle lane is paved, traffic will be moved to it and the eastbound lane, so preparations for paving the westbound lane can commence. Smith is hopeful everything will have a layer of pavement on it before winter.

The main contractor on the job is R.J. Grondin and Sons, of Gorham.

The $3.8 million project between Prescott Road and Edison Drive has included the replacement of water and sewer lines and installation of a natural gas line. A new traffic signal is also being installed as part of the project. Transportation officials said the new traffic signals should be in operation by this winter.

In July, a motorcyclist from Gardiner, Karen Nightingale, died of injuries she suffered when her motorcycle struck a pothole police said was created by road construction near Woodside Road on Western Avenue, which is part of the project area.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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