HALLOWELL — In the lull after the morning rush Monday, Barbara Niccoli-Hiltz took a few minutes to contemplate the anticipated construction project that would dig up and rebuild Water Street.

Although the construction is still only a candidate for 2018 funding, Niccoli-Hiltz and her son are thinking now about ways to lessen the impact on Juiced., their juice and smoothie shop that’s been open a little more than a year. Anything that disturbs the flow of traffic on Water Street could affect her business and others.

Niccoli-Hiltz said she plans to attend an informational meeting the Maine Department of Transportation is hosting 6-8 p.m. Wednesday in the City Hall Auditorium on Winthrop Street.

The project would encompass the core commercial area of downtown Hallowell, stretching from one-tenth of a mile north of Winthrop Street south a little less than a half-mile to the boat launch between Temple Street and Gows Lane. Water Street is also U.S. Route 201, which is heavily traveled daily by commuters and seasonally by tourists.

To date, the project has secured preliminary engineering funding. While that’s widely considered a good first step, it is only the first step. This funding is intended to carry the project to a preliminary design report. Even then, it will still be subject to state and federal funding cycles, and the soonest it could happen would be 2018. While the timeline and budget have not been finalized, the project is intended to change the road profile, fixing the significant downhill tilt on the street’s east side and expanding the drainage capacity.

“The drainage is a 100 percent disaster,” Ernie Martin, state transportation senior project manager, said, citing the volume of water that flows down the hill toward the Kennebec River and crosses Water Street on the way.

The roadway doesn’t meet any standard, he said, and to bring it into compliance will mean losing a few parking spaces on the street. “The concept has evolved,” said Stefan Pakulski, Hallowell city manager, “and a lot of people haven’t heard the information that Ernie has now.”

The city has its own work to undertake.

In 2014, the Hallowell City Council unanimously approved entering an agreement for engineering and design of a Water Street reconstruction or rehabilitation project, and two committees have been looking into solutions for anticipated parking shortages and efforts to promote businesses that are likely to be affected by the work.

“People realize it’s important,” Pakulski said. “We have to look at how we can mitigate the impact on the businesses. Hallowell is a destination city. It slows down a bit in the winter, but for a lot of people, it’s a draw.”

Mornings are the busiest time for the juice and smoothie shop, as customers traveling on Water Street make their way into work along the west side of the Kennebec River.

“Customers tell me if there’s not a parking space out front, they won’t come stop and come in now,” Niccoli-Hiltz said. If the number of parking spaces are decreased, she said, they are less likely to stop, even if a lane of northbound traffic is preserved on Water Street during construction.

Her other fear is that drivers will adopt a new route through Hallowell taking them away from Water Street and will stick with the new route even after the reconstruction is complete.

Niccoli-Hiltz favors a 24/7 work schedule to get the project over with as soon as possible. Alternately, she would like to see the project suspended during the busy tourist season to preserve the busy summer traffic, as the Maine Department of Transportation did in Ogunquit earlier this year.

Martin said he’s well aware of the concerns of business owners like Niccoli-Hiltz. He said he’s hoping for some good conversation and comments at Wednesday’s public meeting. The transportation department has provided posters for Hallowell businesses to post and door hangers to be distributed to residents to get the word out, and it’s been featured on the city’s social media.

“I think we all have to get creative,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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