AUGUSTA — It’s not the rain that will stall a roadway project like the Mount Vernon Avenue reconstruction, it’s the cold and the snow.

“Weather permitting, we’ll work as long as we can,” Shawn Smith, project manager for the Maine Department of Transportation said Monday. But when cold weather ushers in frost and snow, work conditions deteriorate. Frozen ground takes longer to dig and the hot top plants close down for the winter, which halts asphalt work.

Smith said by the end of November, the drainage and utility work under the avenue that links the center of Augusta with northwestern city neighborhoods will be substantially done, and the half-mile long one-way traffic restriction between Mill Street and Fielding’s Oil & Propane depot will be lifted. Smith said the base layer of paving is expected to be completed, but the final, surface layer along with other finish work will be done next year. The $4.3 million project also includes new curb and sidewalk.

In the nearly four months since construction started, business owners with Mount Vernon Avenue addresses have been working harder to bring customers to their businesses through an inevitable slowdown, counting on referrals, networking and promises from longtime customers to continue braving the construction.

John Babb, president of J&S Oil, said business to his Augusta Xpress Stop has dropped by about 60 percent since the project started.

“It’s been horribly slow,” he said. “It’s fingernails-across-a-chalkboard-annoying. About 60 percent of the business is gone.”


To keep customers interested in Xpress Stop, the company has been raffling off gas cards every week since just before the roadway was closed and that will continue through November.

“Every stamp they get on their card improves their chances of winning,” he said. “A lot of our regular customers took advantage of it, suffering the bad road to get here.”

Babb has been through this kind of thing before, so he said he knows it’s going to take people a while to get back to driving their usual route. And because he knew that business would slow down, he was able to take advantage of the lull to remodel the store and add a kitchen for a “grab-and-go” service menu. The move, he said, was built on faith that business would return and increase over time.

“I hope we get a good, smooth road into the heart of the capital,” he said. “I can only hope that with a new road in place, it will be like Western Avenue and attract new businesses here.”

While Babb’s company has other stores to ease the impact of the downturn, other businesses do not.

“I’m looking forward to November,” Lou Craig said Monday. As owner of College Carryout, he’s seen construction along the Mount Vernon corridor every year for the last five years. “We’re embracing a beautiful gateway to north Augusta, but it’s been a struggle with the businesses.”


Craig said traffic restrictions cut into business at his pizza and deli/sandwich shop, but deliveries are in higher demand now. His drivers get stuck in traffic like everyone else, particularly around lunchtime, but most of his customers have been understanding.

“I’m starting to feel the financial pinch, but I’m still paying the help and paying the bills,” he said.

Shop From Home Flooring doesn’t rely on the traffic driving by for its clientele. Owner Sam MacMaster said his customers find him through referrals and through the store’s reputation, and they are still coming in.

“It’s quiet out there now, but by this time next year,” MacMaster said, “people will be going very fast on that road.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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