AUGUSTA — The section of Mount Vernon Avenue that has been one-way north for nearly three months is expected to reopen to two-way traffic by the end of the day Friday.

Construction there, however, is still far from complete.

But officials plan to stick to 90 days of one-way-only traffic and reopen it to traffic in both directions.

“The expectation there is, hopefully, it will be open by the end of the business day Friday, so by nighttime it should be back to normal flow,” said Ernie Martin, project manager for the state Department of Transportation. “We gave the contractor 90 days to use this detour and told the public they were going to have to live with this one-way option for 90 days, and after that the contractor had to pull it out (and return to two-way traffic) and here we are. If we extended the detour another 30 days, it probably wouldn’t go over so well” with local businesses and residents.

Business owners on that approximately half-mile-long stretch of road are more than ready for it to return to two-way traffic.

“We’re just road-weary, you know?” said Scott O’Brien, owner of Augusta Florist at 118 Mount Vernon Ave., squarely in the middle of the work zone. “It will be nice to have it opened up as we get ready for the holiday season. We’re ready.”

Martin said officials had hoped progress would be further along on that section of the $4.3 million project, but work has been slowed as underground utilities such as pipes haven’t turned out to be where contractors expected them to be and that has added time to the project.

Martin said the anticipated completion date has thus been moved out to June 17 of next year from the previous June 10.

With work still going on until it gets too cold and snowy to continue, traffic will still sometimes be alternating one-way traffic, Martin said.

“Any time you get into a project that has old infrastructure, you run into complications,” Martin said. “This one has been a challenge because where we thought the utilities were and where they actually were were two different areas. That has added time delays. But they’ll get through it.”

Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director, warned in a memo to other city officials that work will still be underway even after the one-way restriction is lifted.

“It is important to remember that this is still an active construction project, and although the permanent detour will be gone, there will still be times when there is alternating one-way traffic through work zones which will be controlled with flaggers,” she said. “Traffic will be monitored, especially during the a.m./p.m. commute, and operations can be adjusted if there should be excessive delays. The traveling public should continue to expect some traffic delays when they are traveling Mount Vernon Avenue.”

Business owners in the area have said they’ve had fewer customers because of the work. John Babb, president of J&S Oil, said previously his Augusta Xpress Shop has seen business drop by some 60 percent since the project started.

O’Brien said that unlike some of his neighbors, business at the flower shop actually didn’t end up decreasing during the one-way construction period.

“We deliver. That helped allow us to weather the storm,” he said. “And we had a really busy wedding season. That helped with business, kept us going.”

He said deliveries increased, at least in part, he speculated, because having flowers delivered was easier than coming through the construction to get to the shop in person. Making deliveries has been somewhat more challenging because drivers making them, like other motorists, can’t travel south through that part of Mount Vernon Avenue.

O’Brien said one positive to come out of the construction project for his business has been to see how loyal customers have been.

“We’ve had people call just to see how we’re doing,” O’Brien said. “People are loyal, that’s the positive part about it. They like what we do, so they’re here. And it is a little bit of an effort to get here.”

O’Brien said he understands the need for the work to take place. He noted the road was in such rough shape even before it was torn up to be reconstructed that some people avoided it.

Martin said work will continue for as long as weather allows. Once snow and freezing temperatures arrive, construction work will halt until spring. It will resume as soon as conditions warm enough for work to start again.

Martin said they hope to have a base layer of pavement on the road, the sidewalk paved on one side of the street and a retaining wall built in the area that hasn’t been done yet before pausing work for winter.

In another part of the project, the ability to legally make a left turn out of the Marketplace at Augusta, from Marketplace Drive onto Townsend Road, will remain in place.

Left turns onto Townsend were previously banned at that intersection, but the state removed the ban as part of the larger plan to accommodate traffic seeking alternate routes other than Mount Vernon Avenue.

Some city councilors have advocated permanently removing the ban on those left-turns, but state transportation officials have expressed concern that could put too much traffic on Townsend and potentially back up traffic at the Townsend Road and Northern Avenue intersection.

Martin said left turns will be allowed from Marketplace Drive onto Townsend Road at least through the winter months. He said in the spring traffic numbers will be evaluated in the area, and the state will work with the city to determine whether to reinstate the ban on left turns on to Townsend or allow them permanently.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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