GARDINER — As plans for one portion of the Cobbossee Trail near completion, city officials are seeking opinions from downtown business owners on the impact of some design decisions.

Brian Keezer, from the Maine Department of Transportation, and Patrick Wright, the city’s economic development coordinator and the executive director of Gardiner Main Street, gave a brief update Wednesday on the status of the plans for the long-awaited trail project.

City officials first pursued redeveloping the part of the city that Cobbosseecontee Stream runs through in 2009, but the economic crash sidelined the project for a number of years.

By the time it was revived and funded a year and a half ago, the Maine Department of Transportation had developed plans to replace both the Bridge Street and the Maine Avenue bridges, which cross the stream just north of the downtown neighborhood. After some discussion, city officials agreed to turn over the portion of the trail that passes along the edge of downtown Gardiner over to the transportation department to be completed along with the bridge projects for efficiency and cost savings.

Gardiner officials will still plan and manage the western portion of the Cobbossee Trail, from the point it leaves the Arcade parking lot to its western terminus further upstream.

In his update, Wright said the current designs reflect some of the comments and information gathered at a community meeting in late August.

An early version of the design showed a fence or a safety barrier along the entire edge of the Arcade parking lot, which sits between Cobbosseecontee Stream and Water Street.

Wright said that concerned a number of residents and the committee created by the city to shepherd the project, because it cut off access to stream. The original design incorporated steep slopes lined with rock to prevent erosion.

With some design changes, Wright said, all but a small section of that barrier has been eliminated.

A second design element that’s still being worked out is bicycle and pedestrian safety where the trail runs along Maine Avenue in the state’s right of way, Wright said. The route crosses the driveways that access the Hannaford supermarket.

A third piece of the plan that’s still under consideration by the city’s committee involves creating a more park-like atmosphere at the west end of the Arcade lot, where the former Dennis’ Pizza restaurant is located. The could have an impact on available parking spaces in the city lot. Wright said the committee is seeking input from downtown business owners on how the change might affect them.

“I would like to come back with (more complete) plans at a future meeting in January and go over them in more detail,” Wright said.

The window of time to incorporate more changes is shrinking as the project is running up against a deadline. Because this section of the project is being managed by the state Department of Transportation to coincide with the bridge replacements, the design has to be 90 percent complete by Feb. 1. The project is scheduled to go out to bid by mid-2018.

District 2 City Councilor Pat Hart said one thing that came to light at the forum is that the project has no landscape architect involved.

“The committee has actually formed a sub-committee to dig in and look at that part,” Wright said, “and the DOT has changed the plans to say landscape design will be subject to the plans that sub-committee will create.”

In the version that residents saw at the August public meeting, the none on the plan said landscaping would be completed the on-site engineer.

Wright said it’s the city’s responsibility to design the landscaping, but he cautioned city officials that the project is being paid for by transportation funds, not city beautification funds. The sub-committee is also tasked with finding funding if they want to include plantings and signs not covered by project funds.

“Our stream is beautiful now,” Hart said. “When I go to the Bridge Committee meetings and see all the rip-rap, it actually leaves us worse off. It’s not a betterment, it’s not even an equal trade, it’s not even status quo. It leaves us worse off.”

Hart said thanks to the sewer project completed several years ago near the New Mills dam city residents know what that looks like.

“We know when trees go down and rip-rap goes up, it’s really ugly. We lost a beautiful part of the city and big oak trees,” she said.

While that was not a transportation project, Hart said she encourages the transportation department to be more holistic in how it works with communities to preserve their assets and what their projects look like after they are completed.

“That stream is gorgeous and so many people enjoy it,” she said. “Rip-rapping it and making it look industrial is a bad deal.”

Keezer said the department has a couple of architects on staff and one has offered his services to the project, which may include the trail project.

“Budgets are a big thing, and we are tight on budget,” Keezer said. “If there are any ways to sneak in some landscaping, we’ll try to take advantage of that. To what extent, I don’t know.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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